Allen Say, author and illustrator,
Home of the Brave
Houghton Mifflin / Walter Lorraine Books,
But what of the children? Allen Say,
in his latest children's book, tackles the difficult
question of children and the Japanese Internement
in a darkly shaded dream world from his imagination.
Mr. Say is the author of a number of successful, highly
original, and beautifully illustrated Asian-themed
children's books, including Grandfather's Journey,
Tea with Milk, and Allison.
Drawing upon his own past, Mr. Say has been the most
effective at capturing the inner struggles of young
individuals alienated within a larger society. But,
unlike many of his earlier books, the inspiration
for Home of the Brave was not childhood memories.
Rather, during a recent retrospective of his artwork
at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles,
Say was impressed by a separate exhibit on the Internment
of Japanese Americans. Upon seeing it, the facts and
statistics took on a human face and voice. And
what I saw and heard turned into yet another personal
journey. This (Home of the Brave) is that story.
It was one of the most haunting photos from the Internment,
a photo of the Mochida family taken by the great Dorothea
Lange, that was the source of inspiration for Home
of the Brave. In it, two young children are waiting
with identity tags tied around their necks, labels
that make them nameless, but not faceless. Their vacant
stares into the camera lens reveal nothing other than
the eyes of utterly lost souls. Mr Say pays homage
to that photo, virtually reproducing it with utmost
care as the center-piece of Home of the Brave.
Home of the Brave ventures even deeper into
the imagination and the unreal than Mr. Say's most
adventurous earlier book, the Sign Painter.
In this story a man in a kayak ventures down a wild
river within the real world only soon to find himself
tangled in an unreaal world of a darkened dream. There
he encounters the children of the Internment. These
children are both familiar, but distantly unobtainable
to him, much like ghosts of deceased family relatives
who visit us in our dreams at night. The protagonist
sees the world of night in which they live, and is
just as baffled by their circumstances as he is by
their identity. In a turn of events, he realizes that
his own name and identity is tied to theirs, and that
there is a bright union after all in this nightmare.
As usual, Allen Say's artwork is stunning in its
beauty and emotion. The paintings do their job effectively,
drawing the reader into the twisted swirl of the story.
The story may baffle some, and to truly enjoy and
experience Home of the Brave one must suspend
real world logic and enter Say's dream world where
things unfold slowly and strangely.
Children see the world differently, and are often
overlooked when great tragedies hit and adult issues
overwhelm all things. The Internment of Japanese Americans
was such an event, with its dominant issues of justice
and civil rights, of jobs, land, property, and lives
lost. Allen Say reminds us that it is the children
who are left out of our thoughts and dialogs.
Home of the Brave shows us the vision of children,
while quietly whispering to us do not forget