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A Child in Prison Camp    by Shizuye Takashima order for
Child in Prison Camp
by Shizuye Takashima
Order:  USA  Can
Tundra, 1992 (1992)

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* * *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

Shizuye Takashima is an artist of Japanese-Canadian descent. A Child in Prison Camp tells of her experiences during the internment, that injustice perpetrated by the Canadian government during World War II, when Canadians of Japanese descent were stripped of rights and property and sent to internment camps inland. Only a child of eleven at that time, sensitive and artistic, she narrates with poignant simplicity. Artist Takashima also provides water-colours, whose brightness and charm belie her harsh circumstances. Like her illustrations, Shichan's bright child-eyes register the beauty around her as she tries to make sense of the bewildering events that disrupt her family's lives.

Their own country is guilty of shameful injustice. Targets of racism before the war, they paid taxes but were not allowed to vote. Now their property is confiscated and their families separated. Shichan's father and oldest brother are sent away. Eventually Shichan's father is allowed to rejoin the family, but her brother must remain in the East. Her mother and the younger children are sent to New Denver, in the interior of British Columbia. There the Japanese-Canadians are ordered to build a segregated community, including a hospital for their members who suffer from tuberculosis.

The segregated community has differences that mirror the larger conflicts around them. Shichan's father, angry and frustrated, is one of the spokesmen who stubbornly continue to demand better treatment, such as access to water and heat. Later he speaks of renouncing his citizenship and returning to Japan. Pressure is being placed on the Japanese-Canadians to do so by the government. Shichan's mother and older siblings are resisting. They want to stay in Canada. Oldest brother David has worked hard to establish himself, and he urges his family to join him in Toronto. The bitterness caused by this division can be seen throughout the internment community.

In the end, the family opts to stay; and the internees are finally vindicated when two prime ministers, Lester Pearson and Brian Mulroney, acknowledge the injustice done to them. No person of Japanese descent was ever convicted or even accused of a disloyal act. This book is a gentle but vivid reminder that racism and injustice can flourish even in a country that prides itself on fairness and democracy. It may have been one fearful government that took these measures, but governments are made up of people, people who could have chosen a different path.

We can all choose our own actions. This too Takashima reminds us. A Child in Prison Camp has won numerous awards and critical acclaim, and is well worth a read.

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