Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer

11th November 2011

*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 naïveté. 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.

Check out the rest of the blog tour at TLC Book Tours for more discussion on this book.



  • Vivienne Schiffer

    Jenn – thank you so much for reading Camp Nine and for recommending it to your readers! I am so glad you liked it – thank you for the kind words. Vivienne Schiffer

    • Well thank you for stopping by! I’m in Beaumont, by the way – only a hop, skip, and a jump from Houston. I’d love to know if you plan on any Houston events.

      • Vivienne

        My only Houston event was last Tuesday at Blue Willow! Would have loved to have seen you there – of course, it hasn’t rained in a year and that was the night of the gully washer. But it was still well attended, despite. Vivienne

  • Meagan

    I love the cover. This sounds so interesting. Made me remember a children’s story I read to my class called Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki. Your students might enjoy it too. I’ll have to borrow this one though.

    • Isn’t it a beautiful cover? I think you’d like this one for sure, and I’ll definitely look that book up. Thank you!

  • Pingback: Vivienne Schiffer, author of Camp Nine, on tour November 2011 | TLC Book Tours()

  • I like that Chess is able to look back with such a believable perspective – I’ve read other books (particularly memoirs) that do the same thing and I really enjoy that type of perspective.

    Thank for being a part of the tour!

    • Thank you! I really enjoyed it and am also really looking forward to A Train in Winter. Amazing book.

  • Buriedinprint

    I think it says a lot about a novel when you find yourself compelled to read more about a subject in its pages when you’ve finished reading the story; I can see where this novel would have that effect on a lot of readers!

    • Definitely! In fact, I love when a movie or book makes me want to Google and do some research about something. Very effective.

  • Pingback: Nine Reasons to Read Camp Nine « Buried In Print()