Thursday, September 20, 2007

December 7, 1941: A Day When One Boy's Life Will Change Forever...

I don't know many authors personally - okay, I don't know any - but I do have a connection (however tenuous) with Graham Salisbury . Although I've never met him, I do know his ex-wife and a couple of his kids. In fact, his daughter Melanie was my younger brother's good friend. I heard rumors her dad was a writer, but that's all I knew. Fast forward a few years...I found myself sitting in a college classroom listening to a presentation by a visiting children's author. We were given extra credit points for attending these lectures, so I had chosen this one at random. Imagine my surprise when I realized it was Graham Salisbury - Melanie's dad. He was an excellent speaker, but I never checked out any of his books. Well, the other day, I was at the library scanning the shelves for Lemony Snicket books (I'm on #4), and I happened to see several of Salisbury's novels. So, I grabbed Under the Blood-Red Sun, read it and really enjoyed it.

The story revolves around Tomikazu "Tomi" Nakaji, a Japanese-American eighth-grader living on Oahu in 1941. Tomi lives with his father, a fisherman; his mother, a maid; his ornery grandpa; and his little sister, Kimi. While the Nakaji's shack is less than luxurious, life is pretty good for Tomi. Beating the Kaka'ako Boys in baseball is his biggest worry. Until December 7, when Tomi and his friend Billy spot smoke billowing up from Pearl Harbor. Suddenly, the far-off war has hit Hawaii, and the Nakaji's friends and neighbors are eyeing them with suspicion. As Tomi describes it: "It felt strange, like people were sneaking glances at us ... I realized that what that lady saw wasn't just a boy and his mother...What she saw was a Japanese boy, and his Japanese mother" (131). It doesn't help that Tomi's grandpa still clings desperately to the souveniers of his life in Japan - a flag, their family's katana (an heirloom sword), and an altar for his dead wife. Burying the items makes the Nakajis feel safer...for a time. Then, they receive news they have feared since the attack at Pearl Harbor - Tomi's father, Taro, has been shot and jailed. Without Taro's income to support the family, the Nakajis have little food or kerosene. Tomi wants only to go back to life as it was - school and baseball - but his world has changed forever. When his grandpa is also arrested, Tomi becomes the man of the house, a position that requires him to be strong despite the fact that his whole life is falling apart...The story ends at this point, continuing in the sequel, House of the Red Fish.

The beginning of the book drags a little, although Salisbury does a fine job of introducing readers to life on Oahu. The characters' accents ring true, as do the descriptions of scenery and daily life. Once Pearl Harbor is attacked, the story picks up pace and races to a heartbreaking finale. Although packed with action, the book is really about a friendship - between Japanese-American Tomi and his haole friend Billy - and how the war changes the boys and their relationship with each other. Salisbury also describes the plight of Japanese-Americans in this period with honesty and compassion. It's an authentic, touching story and I'm not just saying that because I know the author...well, okay, sort of know. It really is a great story - I can't wait to read the sequel.

1 comment:

  1. I found your blog by googling 'Blood Red Sun" -- I remembered the name, but not the author, and wanted to mention both in a blog comment. I read Blood Red Sun some years back and loved it. In fact, I even enjoyed the bits about baseball, and I HATE baseball with a passion.

    Tomikazu and Billy's friendship in particular struck me as really authentic and believable. And I didn't even know there was a sequel.

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