When I was in graduated school (the first time), I took a class that was about Asian American history in the United States. One of the topics that we spent alot of time discussing was the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II. Prior to this, I had not had very much exposure to this topic, and took great interest in. So when We Are Not Free by Traci Chee popped up on my Libby app, I immediately took the opportunity to check it out.
We Are Not Free tells the story of fourteen second generation Japanese American citizens (Nisei) who are forced into interment camps with their families during WWII. Each chapter is broken down into a different point of view; each feeling more real than the last. These characters all grew up in Japantown, San Francisco so they were all interconnected with each other – and their lives were to be forever changed when they were forcibly asked to relocate shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
To say, I loved this book would be an understatement. These characters felt so real to me. I enjoyed all the different perspectives and the different experiences that they went through. The racism and anti-Japanese sentiments was very much present in what was happening to these characters and their families. Some of them tried to find a speck of good even being within the camp while others became angrier and upset with what was happening to them. Honestly, it was heartbreaking at times because none of them asked for this.
Traci Chee does a really fantastic job of capturing the various elements of the camps – the horror of being there, the fear of not knowing what is going to happen next, the determination to survive, and the attempts to live life as if nothing had changed. Her descriptions are powerful and bring out the emotions which are being experienced. From the start of the We Are Not Free my heart is with these characters and many of them are still with me even now that I am done with their stories.
We Are Not Free follows a chronological timeline which makes it easy to follow. The fact that this timeline is based on events that actually took place in our American history is absolutely devastating and heartbreaking. And the fact that the mistreatment and racial fear is still occurring in present makes it even more so. Like myself prior to the class that I took during graduate school, there are many who do not know the truth of what occurred to Japanese American citizens during this time in history. Books like We Are Not Free give an opportunity to education as well as reflection. What a truly powerful read!
Rating: 5 Stars