*I received this book through Trish at TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.
Raised by her headstrong mother and near her disapproving but wealthy grandparents, Chess is a product of the time and the land, in an era where land still defined American status and wealth. However, the world is not all peaceful and bucolic in Vivienne Schiffer’s Camp Nine. Pearl Harbor has dragged America into the second World War, and the government buys land in the Arkansas Delta from Chess’s grandfather, Mr. Morton, for an internment camp for Japanese citizens from San Francisco. The community reacts in the ways you’d expect a southern town at that time to react: with fear and thus, prejudice.
Chess’s mother Carolina, raised Italian and considered not good enough by her wealthy in-laws, does not plan to sit idly by while these innocent people sit behind barbed wire at Camp Nine. She flies into the face of southern deportment, visiting the camp often with a former (now-marrried) beau, bringing her daughter along and making friends with the Matsuis. Her attachment alone is enough to bring talk, but her affinity for and defense of the Japanese families in the camp brings the tension to a head, exposing Chess to the ugly side of southern “hospitality.”
One of the aspects of this novel I appreciated the most was Chess’s adult insight. She isn’t judgmental or sentimental but rather looks at her life and the events in it with a curiosity that is both honest and endearing, as though she is questioning it ever happening or more likely, her naÃ¯vetÃ©. Instead of overcompensating for her hindsight or excusing the actions of her family, Chess sticks to stark observations, remarking about the true nature of the KKK and the ruling class’s opposition:
Its opposition of the Klan was not so much that it felt a noble obligation to protect vulnerable blacks. The Klan threatened its valuable work force, the means through which its wealth was achieved.
This sort of explanation could easily have felt heavy handed, but there were only a few instances toward the end of the novel when Chess meets up with David Matsui after many years that there was any sort of protracted explanation. However, that’s being quite nitpicky because I raced through this novel, enjoying it and – as many a good novel makes me do – turned to Internet research to learn more about the internment of the Japanese and Japanese Americans and both the intense shame these families felt but also their struggles to take back any sort of life after the war. Fascinating and horrifying stuff.
Read this: if you have any interest in World War II, particularly the American experience. Would also make for an excellent book club book.