Garden of Stones by Sophie Littlefield
World War II gets a lot of attention in high school history books and on TV documentaries, but oftentimes while the sacrifices of American soldiers are the center point of these discussions, a darker tale is swept under the rug- that of internment camps on our own soil, built to hold our own citizens. The Japanese camps of the early 1940s are too often skimmed over in the discussion of the US’ role in the war, not giving fair play time to those who suffered and lost while never leaving their home country. Sophie Littlefield’s latest book, Garden of Stones, shines a light on this difficult time in American history, weaving a tale that links the pain of several generations.
As Garden of Stones jumps between the Patty’s pending wedding in the late 1970s and the dissolution of that same family in the early 1940s, Littlefield tells Lucy’s story- the middle woman in a three-generation tale. Lucy was just a teenager when the US government decided it would be prudent to gather up all Americans of Japanese ancestry and send them to holding camps, fearful that these people would work with the Japanese military against the US. Lucy was still reeling from the sudden loss of her father when she and her mother were shipped to Mazanar in California. While Lucy found the transition easier than her mother, falling into a part-time job as a delivery girl and meeting Jessie, who would be her first true love, her mother, Miyako, finds no such solace. As a beautiful woman, she is instantly noticed by the officers who ran the camp and soon forced to provide favors for these men, in hopes of keeping her maturing, and beautiful, daughter away from their prying eyes and filthy hands.
Soon though, Patty sees the darker side of the camp, as she realizes that not only her mother, but also Jessie, are taken advantage of in ways that would be unheard of in her life before the war came to American soil. This sudden loss of naivety starts the ball rolling on a series of events that will transform not only her own life, but those of her mother and Jessie as well.
Garden of Stones doesn’t condone the choices and subsequent actions of its various struggling characters, but it does shine a light on their backgrounds, allowing the reader to see beyond the face value of what appears to be heartless maiming of a child or cold-blooded murder. There is more to each character than meets the eye and as readers, we are privy to those histories and stories.
My one complaint with this book is that the multi-generational ensemble cast creates such a huge tale to tell that individual’s stories often don’t go as deep as I would like. There were several characters introduced, who by the end of the novel, I still want to know more about. Stories that need to be told are left open-ended, in what seem to be unintentional cliffhangers.
Sophie Littlefield’s latest work isn’t always easy to read, on an emotional level, but it does tell the tale of a time too often forgotten, and does so in a way that made me really consider just how large a swath of gray area can exist when it comes to the choices people make, earning it: