The Invisible Thread by Yoshiko Uchida is an #OwnVoices Japanese non-fiction memoir that is written to be accessible for young adult readers. Ms Uchida was a renown Japanese-American author of children’s books, and in this book, she shares what her life was like prior to hers and her family’s forced relocation to the Japanese internment camp at Topaz, during World War II in 1945.
Out of all of the memoirs that I have read thus far regarding the Japanese-American internment camp experiences and history, I must say that this one is the one that I have found to be most compelling so far, and I’ve read some remarkable ones to say the least.
What sets The Invisible Thread apart from others is that the first half of it focuses entirely on establishing what Ms Uchida’s life was like prior to Topaz. Her and her family were very much a normal, American family. Her father worked a regular job, providing for his wife and kids, while her mother took care of the house. Both were educated and successful individuals in their own right. They were strong pillars of the Japanese-American communities, as well as with a few of their White neighbours and members of the local communities. They helped so many Japanese people who immigrated to America during that time period, or people who were in town visiting or for business, always providing a home away from home. She talks about how she discovered her passion for writing stories and the ways that her sister and her would bicker and play with their friends. If their race or physical features were never described, with no mention of them being Japanese, I honestly wouldn’t be able to tell that they’re any different then their White neighbours and friends.
Because she was born in America, she never really considered herself as Japanese. Ms Uchida was always faced with a cultural identity conflict growing up. In her heart, she never saw a difference between her and her best friends with blonde hair and blue eyes. Only when it was rudely and blatantly pointed out that she looked different with her slanted eyes and black hair did she come to realise that even Americans didn’t view her as one of their own. No matter what, her distinguishing racial traits would always make her a foreigner to them. It is powerful, infuriating, and absolutely horrid.
The vast majority of Japanese-Americans had lives similar to the Uchidas. They were normal people who were trying to survive to the best of their ability by working very hard, keeping to themselves, and helping where they could. Most memoirs pick up a year prior to the relocation, at most, but in The Invisible Thread, we get more rich details of what the Japanese-American lifestyle entailed. Since this is so rarely discussed in narratives of this calibre, I welcomed it eagerly and found it to be immensely insightful and revealing of the era. It makes the impact of the dehumanising trauma and illegal act of hatred that they all faced all the more real and unfathomable.
Ms Uchida’s tone is extremely forthright, particularly where she explains how Executive Order 9066 was unconstitutional and nothing more than a crime of hate, which Roosevelt was most-definitely aware of. She brings up how during that time period, people justified the camps as a way of dealing with the enemies of the Allies, but then if that truly was the case, why weren’t German and Italian peoples being rounded up into camps as well? It was a pure act of mass racism, hatred, and vengeance; an abysmal war crime and an act of malevolent disregard for the nation’s own citizens. A lot of memoirs, while they do openly discuss the trauma and humiliation, as well as how wrong the Internment camps were, they rarely call out the injustices with such openness. I believe a lot of that has to do with fear of being a target of prejudice once again, which is completely understandable. Yet, Ms Uchida believes that our children should know what happened so that they can fight and be better people and ensure that this will never happen to another group of minorities ever again.
The book is written in a simple manner. With a flowing and approachable voice, it discusses uncomfortable and heart-breaking subject matter with an honest yet delicate attitude, making its contents easy for younger readers to digest and comprehend. This, combined with its short length, also makes it rather easy to read quickly. I finished the book in the span of two hours while I was taking a break from work.
The Invisible Thread is an astounding read. Above all else, it’s a narrative about how the Japanese-Americans were human, and no matter what other petty differences that there are between people, we should all respect one another and our shared humanity. Highly recommended to everyone.