Silver Like Dust takes a first-hand look at one of the darker chapters in American history, the internment of Japanese and Americans of Japanese descent during World War II, in the light of one family’s search for the American dream. The tale told by Kimi Cunningham Grant is one of self-discovery as she learns of her own history through conversations with her grandmother, affectionately refered to as Obachan.
Grant sets the stage by describing the circumstances surrounding her great-grandparents’ immigration to Los Angeles in the early 20th Century – detailing the discriminatory policies of the day before going into Obachan’s account of her childhood in Little Tokyo. Born in Los Angeles, Obachan feels little connection to her parent’s homeland and faces the struggles typical of first generation Americans, that is until the growing tensions in the Pacific led to war.
The great uncertainty surrounding relocation is easily the most tense in this tale, and yet it is met with no resistance – all misgivings (generally) kept to oneself. Once Obachan and her family reach Heart Mountain, Wyoming where they will spend the bulk of the war, the oppressiveness of the camps is more a backdrop to life events. A young woman at the time, Obachan details her courtship and family life under internment – the struggle with uncertainty, the joy in small freedoms, and the hope for the future. The internment certainly provides the catharsis for the novel, but it is the subsequent success of the family and the continued belief in the American Dream that define it.
As narrator, Grant deftly shifts between past and present, allowing Obachan to unveil her story in pieces. This structure works provides Grant opportunity to interject her own reactions and impression while providing context and stories outside the primary narrative to truly deepen the reading experience without detracting from her grandmother’s tale. As the story progresses, the dynamics of the present-day family evolve and the reader sees the growing affection and respect Grant has for Obachan and her heritage.
While it may not be as sensational or scandalous as other tales of racial prejudice, Silver Like Dust delves deep into harsh realities of the time. It challenges the readers concepts of what it means to be American, what it means to be Japanese, and highlights the difficulties faced by a multi-cultural nation. It is a window into a past left largely unacknowledged – putting human faces and emotions onto a surprising chapter of American history. It is a tale told with typically Japanese restraint and uniquely American optomism.
Silver Like Dust is published by Pegasus Books LLC and is availavle for purchase through major online retailers. $26.95 / 324 pages / Hardcover / 978-1-60598-272-4