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At the Writing Barn (Austin), host Bethany Hegedus introduces author Mary Helen Specht (Migratory Animals) and invites visitors to tour the grounds and the new Book House on January's last Wine & Words Wednesday. Photos by Barbara Brannon
AUSTIN, Thurs., Feb. 5, Book People, Former Governor of Arkansas MIKE HUCKABEE signing his new book, God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, 11am
Also Midland, Fri., Feb. 6, Barnes & Noble, Mike Huckabee: God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, 11am
TYLER, Thurs., Feb. 5, UT Tyler, Nicholas Sparks talk & book signing, 7:30pm
AUSTIN Sat., Feb. 8, Book People, Austin Chronicle Short Story Contest Winners Party!, 7pm
At the Big Ball of Hair Ball, from left: Kristin Harnisch as Scarlett O'Hara, Jamie Ford as Phileas Fogg, Karen Abbott as Edgar Allan Poe, Kathy Hepinstall and Becky Hepinstall as Confederate soldiers; DEL Connor as Dolly Parton. Back row: Bill Dedman as the Cat in the Hat. Photo by Barbara Brannon
JAN JARBOE RUSSELL
The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II
NONFICTION Scribner, 2015, 978-1-4516-9366-9, 400 pp., $30.00
reviewed by Michelle Newby, Contributing Editor
“Enemies are people whose stories you haven’t yet heard and whose faces you haven’t yet seen.” –Irene Hasenberg Butter
Well. They don’t teach you this stuff in school. From 1942 until 1948 at Crystal City, in the south Texas desert thirty miles from the Mexican border, the federal government operated the only family internment camp in the world during World War II. Approximately 6,000 German, Italian and Japanese civilians—termed “dangerous enemy aliens” and their American-born children—were held indefinitely, without charge or trial. Crystal City also held detainees whom FDR used as leverage in prisoner exchanges with the Axis powers. For the detainees, Crystal City represented reunion with their families, the carrot preceding the stick of repatriation.
Jan Jarboe Russell tells the larger tale of Crystal City by focusing on two teenage girls who lived in the camp behind barbed-wire fences patrolled on horseback, watched by armed guards in towers. Ingrid Eiserloh from Ohio spent eighteen months in Crystal City with her mother and siblings when her father, a German legal resident of the United States, was arrested by the FBI and placed in “custodial detention.” Sumi Utsushigawa from Los Angeles spent more than two years in Crystal City with her parents, both legal Japanese immigrants.
In perhaps the most moving passages, Russell weaves in the story of the prisoner Ingrid was eventually exchanged for: Irene Hasenberg, a German Jew and survivor of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. This episode conveys one of the abundant brain-boggling ironies in Crystal City: exchanging an American citizen for a German citizen. Paradoxes abound. Ingrid’s father, deported as an enemy of the state, was hired by the U.S. Army in Germany as a translator. Sumi, an American citizen, was deported to Japan with her parents where she, too, found work as a translator with the occupying US Army.
Crystal City is thoroughly researched narrative nonfiction written in a colloquial style that makes history engaging and accessible for all. It is rich in the seemingly small details that evoke an era, place, and experience. For example, the Japanese detainees complained they had nothing with which to grind tofu. This problem was resolved with pestles and molinos from a local Mexican restaurant. One of my favorite anecdotes involves a group of Japanese boys who repeatedly serenaded the guards in the towers with “…many choruses of one of the top tunes of the hit parade, 'Don’t Fence Me In.'” Jarboe Russell doesn’t preach at us; she presents the facts, leavened by the personalities of the individuals involved, and lets the work speak for itself. This is an important addition to not only Texas history, but world history.
I’ll end this review with a quote from a letter written by a Crystal City detainee to the INS. “No living thing should be locked up…When I am free, I want to live in a house without locks, even without doors. It will be a house made up of windows and the view must not be obstructed by anything, not even mountains.”
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Michelle is contributing cditor at Lone Star Literary Life, reviewer for Foreword Reviews, freelance writer, member of the National Book Critics Circle, and blogger at www.TexasBookLover.com. Her reviews appear or are forthcoming in Pleiades Magazine, Rain Taxi, World Literature Today, South85 Journal, The Review Review, Concho River Review, Monkeybicycle, Mosaic Literary Magazine, Atticus Review, and The Collagist.
from Michelle Newby, NBCC, Contributing Editor
Week of February 8
Migratory Animals, HarperCollins
A debut novel by Abilene native Mary Helen Specht, Fulbright scholar, creative writing professor at St. Edwards University. A look at the lives of a group of thirtysomething friends told in multiple viewpoints.
Week of February 15
The Same Sky, Ballantine
From Austinite Amanda Eyre Ward, author of five novels, including How to be Lost and Close Your Eyes, comes a ripped-from-the-headlines story of undocumented immigration in Texas. She has spent the last year visiting shelters in Texas and California, meeting immigrant children and hearing their stories; her new novel is inspired by what she learned.
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My Long-Playing Records and Other Stories
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