I seem to be reading more WWII fiction than normal these days, and I always try to read a variety of experiences and perspectives. So you can imagine my joy when when I came across Within These Lines which features the internment of Japanese Americans in the San Fransisco area. It’s brutal without shedding a drop of blood, cruel without employing force to gain complaisance, and utterly heartbreaking despite the prevalence of endearing love. Get ready for a gut punch, Morrill will leave you absolutely devastated.
Title: Within These Lines
Author: Stephanie Morrill
Publication Date: March 5, 2019
Genre: WWII Fiction, Historical Fiction
Themes: WWII, Romance, Japanese Internment in America
My Rating: 4/ 5
Evalina Cassano’s life in an Italian-American family in 1941 is everything it “should be” until she falls in love with Taichi Hamasaki, the son of Japanese immigrants. Despite the scandal it would cause and that inter-racial marriage is illegal in California, Evalina and Taichi vow they will find a way to be together. But anti-Japanese feelings erupt across the country after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Taichi and his family are forced to give up their farm and move to an internment camp.
Degrading treatment make life at Manzanar Relocation Center difficult. Taichi’s only connection to the outside world are treasured letters from Evalina. Feeling that the only action she can take to help Taichi is to speak out on behalf of all Japanese Americans, Evalina becomes increasingly vocal at school and at home. Meanwhile, inside Manzanar, fighting between different Japanese-American factions arises. Taichi begins to doubt he will ever leave the camp alive.
With tensions running high and their freedom on the line, Evalina and Taichi must hold true to their values and believe in their love to make a way back to each other against unbelievable odds.
Being a Canadian, especially one who lives rather proximal to the Canadian internment camps in the prairies and the rockies, I’ve always had an interest in the internment of Canadian (and American) citizens, emigres, and foreign nationals during WWII. In large part, this interest is born out of the fact that our capital ‘H’ History tries so hard to erase these deplorable actions from the record. I live just 45 minutes from where the Kananaskis internment camp once stood, and I can tell you first hand that the history of this place is overshadowed by a nearby national park, the ’88 Olympics, and a booming tourist industry. The history from 1942 – 1949 is marked with nothing more than a few lines on a hard to find plaque, a fading memory of injustice, and the power of shame and willful ignorance.
And so, when Within These Lines – the riveting love story of Evelina and Taichi set in 1941 San Fransisco and later the Manzanar Relocation Centre – became available on NetGalley I simply couldn’t resist. It’s equal parts hopeful and horrifying, which made it impossible not to feel deeply as our two narrators undertook their journeys through the societal landscape of California following the bombing of Pearl Harbour.
Told in split narrative, we’re able to catch glimpses of two sides of the dividing lines. This hard hitting topic was carried tactfully by a sweet and passionate love story of two teens caught in the thick of it all. It helped that Evalina came from an Italian family, and that she was not completely free from the stigma and prejudice that was rampant at the time, as this helped to bridge the chasm between her and Taichi. And the fact that Evalina stayed committed to Taichi even when she had other options or when it would have been easier to walk away makes this story just that much better.
It was painful to see the quiet acquiescence with which many families went to the Manzanar camp simply because they were asked to, the cruelness with which the Japanese were treated even when they were clearly causing no harm, and the ways in which the citizens who were willing to speak out against these injustices were treated in turn. It made perfect sense that Evalina connected with the church group, that she decided to take up a male-dominated field of study at university, and that her advocacy efforts continued on campus.
Taichi showed a different kind of strength and offered the perfect balance to Evalina’s stubborn and headstrong ways. He is quiet and contemplative, worried about disappointing his family, and always careful not to make waves. And though it broke my heart to read, I appreciated how he tried to protect Evalina from the reality of what he and his family were enduring. Also, I was completely undone by lengths he went through to protect and support his sister, provide for his mother, and eventually the steps that he took to keep the peace within the camp when tensions began to rise.
While there is a small amount of action, Within These Lines is driven by string characters, flawless research, and an exquisite attention to detail which brings all of the pieces together. Not only are Taichi and Evelina sweet and relatable, they are supported by a cast of excellent secondary characters. It’s beautifully written, highly emotive, and absolutely breathtaking.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely!
But be warned, this one will require a box of tissues close at hand.
Many thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.