They Called Us Enemy

REVIEW: They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott and Harmony Becker

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard. They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalised racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

It sounds cliché to say reading They Called Us Enemy was a rollercoaster of emotions, but it was. It was infuriating to hear about some of the politicians and lawyers who set in motion the anti-Japanese sentiment have gone onto having very successful careers. It was sad to see what George’s parents went through and how they struggled to keep their family together and to do the best thing for them all. And it was wonderful to see that hope can survive in even the most terrible of circumstances, and how there are people who will help others even though they themselves may get hurt. I felt myself tear up multiple times reading They Called Us Enemy. Some tears were due to sadness and frustration that people were treated like this (and are still being treated like this) while other tears were of the joy of seeing George Takei meet with Gene Roddenberry and how Star Trek really had such a positive impact on George and the world.

They Called Us Enemy does a great job of showing both how a child would deal with having to leave their home and live in confined spaces with strict rules, and how adults would be scared because they have a better understanding over what is happening to them. There’s the childlike innocence about a lot of George’s experience, at least to begin with in some camps where they were obviously not pleasant but not as harsh as their later experiences.

I learnt so much about the internment of Japanese Americans from this book. I first heard about this event in history through following George Takei on Twitter, he said something about it that got me googling and I learnt about something I’d never heard of before when I was in my early twenties. A lot of quotes and moments in They Called Us Enemy will stick with me, but one that really stood out was: “That remains part of the problem – that we don’t know the unpleasant aspects of American history and therefore we don’t learn the lesson those chapters have to teach us. So we repeat them over and over again.”

I suppose I have the “excuse” of being British and growing up in the UK that I didn’t learn bout this part of American history in school, in fact in History class we barely touched on the attack on Pearl Harbour and it’s just the catalyst for America joining the war. Naturally all our history is UK-focused. But still, as George Takei says, it’s important to know our history – both the good and the bad – so we don’t make the same mistakes again.

They Called Us Enemy is an important and impactful book but it’s also a compelling story with wonderful art that perfectly captures the innocence of childhood. They Called Us Enemy is definitely a book I’d recommend to anyone, whether they were a fan of George Takei or not. His childhood is, unfortunately, the childhood of tens of thousands Japanese Americans and it’s a story of 120,000 people that must be heard. 5/5.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Winter TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. This week it’s what books we plan to read this winter. I’m not particularly a seasonal mood reader but here are a mixture of books I’d like to read before 2019 finishes and books I want to get to early in the New Year.

The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam
I really want to hit 100 books read for my Read the World Project by the end of 2019 and I’m really close (I’ve read 98 books/countries) and The Good Muslim is a book that’s recently come into my life and it will cross off Bangladesh from my TBR. The Good Muslim is about two siblings who have been scarred by war and how they attempt to reconnect.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
I’ve had this book on my TBR for years, probably since it was first released and got all of its praise. I recently got the audiobook cheap so I’m hoping that’ll give me the push to finally read it.

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott and Harmony Becker
Graphic novels are always a good way to get more books read before the year is out. I’m sure this will be a tough one though as it’s based on George Takei’s childhood experiences in a internment camp.

Night, Again edited by Linh Dinh
This is a short story collection from different Vietnamese writers so theoretically it should be a relatively quick read.

How To Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis
I received this through TBTBSanta a few years ago and I still really want to read it. It’s an essay collection about the roles of literary heroines in our lives and how their stories can impact us.

Only God Can Make a Tree by Bertram Roach
Another one for my Read the World Project this book is by an author form Saint Kitts and Nevis and it’s a pretty short book at less than 150 pages.

Black Panther: The Complete Collection Vol. 1 by Christopher Priest, Mark Texeria, Vince Evans, Joe Jusko, Mike Manley, Mark Bright and Sal Velluto
I got this graphic novel collection for my birthday a few months ago and it’d be good to read it soon. Plus, T’Challa is one of my favourite Marvel characters so I would like to learn more about his history.

The Places I’ve Cried in Public by Holly Bourne
Contemporary YA, even hard-hitting YA, is often very easy and quick for me to read so maybe I’ll get through this one before the end of the year.

Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and other lies) curated by Scarlett Curtis
I do like reading essay collections as they can be something you can dip in and out of, I think that’s how I’ll read this book over the next few months.

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
I got this book in a subscription box years ago and I did try to read it then, but I couldn’t really get into it. Since then I’ve heard more and more good things about this series, so I want to give it another go.

What books do you want to read this winter?