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Book Review: Midnight in Broad Daylight

A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds!

Midnight in Broad Daylight CoverThough the title of this book is taken from Sankichi Tōge’s poem about the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima this book isn’t actually all about that event; one chapter late on in the book is dedicated to the event with its post traumatic effects on the populace, and the family in particular, covered in subsequent chapters. It is quite frankly an astonishing and incredibly moving account of one Japanese-American family’s experience of immigrant status in the USA and the effect of the Great Depression, racism, movements of various members of the family back and forth between Japan and the USA in the lead up to the Second World War, the consequences for the various members of the family in situ in both countries during the war and their involvement in it, and the aftermath of the war and the subsequent deaths of the various main characters whose lives the book so eloquently covers.

Harry Frank and Pierce with parents Kinu and Katsuji courtesy of Harry Fukuhara

Harry, Frank and Pierce with parents Kinu and Katsuji courtesy of Harry Fukuhara

Though it could be described as ‘dynastic’ it isn’t quite in the same vein as something like ‘Gone with the Wind’ (though there are parallels with it) instead dealing with the experiences of an ordinary family in extraordinary circumstances.

What is astonishing is the unbridled racial discrimination that Japanese immigrants and their American children were subject to which in many ways paralleled that which Native Americans, African-Americans, and Chinese (all non-white ethnicities) were subject to; the Alien Land Law and the prevention of land ownership by issei (first generation Japanese immigrants to the USA) without US citizenship, the denial of citizenship for issei, the illegality of ‘miscegenation’ (reproduction) between whites and Japanese to name but some of the legalised racism at the time…

…and this even before the Second World War and the accompanying internment of Japanese immigrants and their children, who are/were US citizens, in concentration camps in the USA (reviewer’s note: with anti-Japanese sentiment and discrimination continuing into the 1980s) as well as blatant and very hostile racism in the media and occasionally violent racism within communities.

To be fair the book also relates how the same sort of discrimination was also prevalent in Japan with regard to issei and nissei (second generation Japanese-Americans with US citizenship) who had returned to and were resident in Japan in the lead up to and during Second World War, and to some extent afterwards.

Frank Harry and Pierce after the war courtesy of Harry Fukuhara

Pierce, Harry and Frank after the war courtesy of Harry Fukuhara

The style of writing and the roller coaster ride accounts of their fortunes are so engaging it’s difficult to put the book down and though there are a couple of really pivotal characters, Frank and Harry, the rest of the family members are hardly peripheral. Though both occasionally despairing and uplifting in almost equal parts the narrative also takes the reader on a journey that is ultimately a testament to the triumph of the human spirit in spite of what seems like almost insurmountable adversity. One cannot fail to be moved by their stories which occasionally provoked this reviewer to tears.

That it is published in the USA and Canada may be the reason why it took so long to come to this reviewers notice. It is an important contribution to and record of social history and its study and though a publication that seems at first glance intended for the academic market (it has a number of sections at the rear that include author Q&As and a reading/study guide) it is also very accessible for the non-academic. Attractive for readers with perhaps an interest in the history of Japanese-American immigration in the USA and in the conflict between the USA and Japan during the Second World War and its effect on those with potentially divided loyalties, it is an absolute must read for anyone with an interest in these subjects.

Midnight in Broad Daylight

By Pamela Rotner Sakamoto

Published by Harper Perennial, and imprint of Harper Collins, 2016

ISBN 978-0-06-235194-4

Pamela Rotner Sakamoto website


Reviewer Profile:

Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.

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Book Review: Where The Dead Pause And The Japanese Say Goodbye – A Journey By Marie Mutsuki Mockett 

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