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In 1942 San Francisco, photojournalist Dorothea Lange captured an era-defining portrait: A Japanese American woman cranes her neck, concern etched across her brow, as she waits in line to register her family for forced removal. She was one of the 125,000 people of Japanese ancestry that the U.S. forcibly displaced and incarcerated after declaring war on Japan in WWII. The woman at the center of this evocative image was Shizuko Ina, and The Poet and the Silk Girl: A Memoir of Love, Imprisonment, and Protest is the story of the unimaginable future that came next for her and her family.

In this moving memoir, author Satsuki Ina—who was born to Shizuko in the Tule Lake Segregation Center—recovers the story of how her parents survived and resisted their incarceration in U.S. concentration camps. Drawing from diary entries, heart-wrenching haiku, censored letters, government documents, and clandestine messages, Ina shares the eyewitness dispatches of Shizuko and her newlywed husband Itaru. Their words, interwoven with the ravel of war and Ina’s own retrospective reflection, afford an intimate view into the experiences of those whose lives were upended, by reason of race alone, by Executive Order 9066—a presidential edict that dispossessed an entire generation of Japanese people, including U.S. citizens, of their homes and livelihoods.

The Inas’ story takes us from San Francisco’s Japantown—rendered desolate by forced removal—to the cramped quarters of Tanforan. It captures a rare glimpse of camp life at Topaz, a hotbed of organized protest, where the Inas’ second child was born, and where Itaru took a principled stance as a “No-No” when pressed under duress to pledge his loyalty to the U.S. government. It takes us to an “enemy alien” prison camp in Bismarck where the fate of the family hangs in precarious balance as the war draws to a close. And it takes us to now, as Satsuki Ina, a psychotherapist and activist, connects her family’s ordeal to paralleling atrocities today—from anti-Asian hate crimes to the incarcerated migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

With dauntless conviction, Ina’s multivocal memoir serves as a powerful testament to the traumatic legacies of state-sanctioned race-baiting and fear-mongering. It also reminds us of the temerity of the human spirit and the fortifying succor of compassionate witnessing.

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