Cover Image: Facing the Mountain

Facing the Mountain

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Member Reviews

This was a phenomenal book. The book begins with the Japanese American perspective on Pearl Harbor and their immediate fears of persecution after the attack. I learned so much about their emotions, their actions taken to protect themselves, and their desire to be seen as Americans. As the book progresses into the peoples' time in the internment camps I found myself horrified by the nature of their treatment not only at the camps but in how they were forced to give up their Constitutional rights to get there. Later parts of the book address young Japanese American men and their military service in the European front. This part dragged a bit for me due to the technical military terms, but that being said I was still astounded by their heroism. I loved that the book completed their journey by concluding with what happened to the Japanese American people after the war was over, including what the people did in terms of having their injustices recognized years later. This was a wonderfully written book that educated me in many ways.
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An absolutely spectacular book to which I give an enthusiastic 5***** rating. Daniel James Brown, who previously wrote “The Boys in the Boat” has a follow up book that in my opinion dwarfs any of his other works. He has done a magnificent job in telling the stories of Americans of Japanese Ancestry (AJA) who suffered and sacrificed during WW2. He has used extensive sourcing for this story, including personal interviews when possible as well as oral history archives.
Life was never easy for many people who arrived in both the US or Hawaii (at the time of WW2 Hawaii was not a state). These were hard working people, people who came to the US and could not attain US Citizenship, but their US born children were full American citizens. They rose from menial jobs to having their own small businesses, owning homes, being productive farmers, etc. And then came the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Americans don’t want to talk about War Relocation Camps, Exclusion Zones, prejudice, racism and loss of American liberties, but fortunately for all of us the author does a fantastic job of detailing this and so much more. He makes the reader feel the pain and humiliation that those AJA experienced and felt directly, as the US succumbed to fear and the feeling that anyone who had Japanese ancestry had to be a spy for or loyal to Japan. People were unceremoniously rounded up and sent to holding areas before being shipped off to their horrific Relocation Centers. And to assist in telling the story the author follows about 15-20 different people as we see how this shameful part of our History affected these people or their families.
Eventually the young men in the camp were given the option of enlisting in the US Army, as we were going to form an All-Japanese division to fight in Europe. We follow them through Basic Training, and get a glimpse at the harsh reception they got in Hattiesburg, MS, even when they went into town in their US Military uniforms. They all became part of the 442 Infantry Regiment that made its way over to Italy where they were given assignments and missions that none of the other units were able to complete. They served heroically, bravely and did what nobody else could do. They broke the back of the German army in Italy and their reward was a trip to France and Germany where they once again were given the tasks that no other unit could accomplish, all of which culminated in their rescue of the Lost Battalion. The Lost Battalion was a group of Texans that got themselves surrounded by the German Army and were in fear of being totally annihilated. The 442 was sent in to rescue that group. The weather was horrid, the terrain unforgiving, the Germans pouring massive firepower at them, but eventually these young men (men who were denied their liberties here in the US) broke through. The 442 lost 800 men in order to rescue 200. These were warriors, these were heroes, these were ordinary kids most of whom had their parents still living in the War Relocation Centers.
But the story continues after the war, as they and their parents many times felt continuing prejudice and lived in fear for their lives and property. And as a bonus we also get to follow a conscientious objector who challenged the system, who was respected by all he met be they prosecutors, FBI agents, cellmates, etc. He even was allowed to make his own way to the prison in Arizona when there were no funds or agents to take him there, and so he hitchhiked to his own prison term and when he arrived he was treated as a hero by the inmates.
There are stories galore in this book and page after page we meet wonderful characters, shake our heads in both despair and amazement, and by the end I must give a huge THANK YOU to Daniel James Brown for writing this book, as well as for all those AJA who suffered and who served in WW2. The book is both inspirational and cautionary, it makes us think of service, valor, sacrifice, humiliation, shame and it teaches us many lessons – never take our lives and liberties for granted because if we do some politician or foreign power is always waiting in the wings to try and deny us those very things we hold near and dear.
A final note, it is refreshing to read a book that focuses on Japanese Americans. Most history books and movies ignore these individuals, as they concentrate on the War in Europe and the Pacific theater us ignored. We still have voluminous books on the treatment of the Jews in WW2, but nobody wants to remember what we did to our own citizens. Thanks Daniel James Brown what a wonderful book, what an amazing topic, and what a history lesson you teach in a book I could never put down!
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The talented narrator for this audiobook, Louis Ozawa, sounds a lot like Patrick Radden Keefe, whomst I love.

Just like The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, this book is good for dads and book clubs.
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Although as a school librarian, I have found a number of books for kids about the heart-wrenching treatment of Japanese Americans, this is the first book for adults which really delves into the issues faced by Japanese Americans on the west coast and Hawaii after Pearl Harbor. Like Brown did for the University of Washington crew team who represented the US in Hitler’s Olympics, the focus is on a few Japanese Americans who served in the 442nd in Italy, France and Germany as well as a conscience objector. It’s publishing comes just when Asian Americans facing racist violence.  I met some of the members of the 442nd at Bellevue Washington Sister Cities meetings. I continually was amazed at how the men who were incarcerated for being Japanese chose to fight for the US. They were unassuming men who felt they did their duty. If it wasn’t for people like Brown, who in writing so well, brings them to the forefront as their story is told.
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Brown has written a heartening and heart-wrenching story of the Young Japanese Americans who enlisted and fought valiantly in WW II. In spite of the fact that many of their families were being held in American concentration camps, once allowed, these young Men enlisted in record numbers and proved to be some of the most valiant soldiers in the war, their unit being one of the most decorated in the war. Juxtaposing the experiences of the soldiers with the lives of their families, Brown provides insight into their backgrounds and the values that led them to valiantly fight for the country that had judged the families so unfairly. 
Brown is a thorough researcher and conducted interviews with some of the men and/or their families. The book is rich in characterization and historical accuracy.
This book is recommended for all interested in WW II history. The Japanese American unit fought in some of the worst battles of the war with exceptional courage and determination. The book is extremely well-written--one of the best books of the year.
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Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown

The acclaimed author of Boys in the Boat (which I loved) tackles Japanese Americans in WWII — both those interned in camps following FDRs Executive Order 9066 and those who served in the military’s single Japanese American unit (also the most highly decorated) — the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.  

While dealing with — let’s face it — some deeply depressing and disturbing topics — Brown makes it clear from the start that this is the story of Victors, not Victims.  And that is how the story reads.  This is the story of how a diverse group of people (not everyone in a single ethnic group is the same, even as they are treated as the same!) faced adversity and made the best of it. Through extensive research and first person interviews, Brown follows three primary characters who each ended up in the 442nd: Kats Miho from Hawaii, Rudy Tokiwa from Salinas (within California’s Exclusion Zone) and Fred Shiosaki from Hillyard, WA (outside Washington’s Exclusion Zone).  An additional thread follows Gordon Hirabayashi as he makes his way through the courts protesting the unconstitutionality of interning American citizens based on their ethnicity.  The character set expands to include their families, friends, and comrades-at-arms while the story extends from Pearl Harbor to incarceration to military draft to battle to returns home to legislation (finally) apologizing to the community and paying (some) restitution to survivors.  

It is a massive undertaking but Brown’s style makes it appear effortless (like Fred Astaire’s dancing).  He gets to the essence of every thought and action.  Through personal interviews and letters, we gain access to the actual (not fictionalized) thoughts, discussions, and noticed details of those involved.  Often these brought tears to my eyes.  Reading first-person accounts is so very different than what I or a novelist imagines in any situation.  Facts and figures, as well as historical context, are inserted at just the right moments.

I found the book fascinating from start to finish.  While I was aware of the broad strokes of the treatment of Japanese Americans during the war, I was not aware of the many, many, tiny strokes that comprised it.  I give this book a strong five star rating and highly recommend but if I were to point out a couple of negatives (which it appears I’m about to do) it would be that he does sometimes descend into hyperbole — for example when describing a situation, such as the conditions initial Japanese immigrants found in the late 1800s, from his own perspective rather an individual’s recollection and report.  He also inserts anecdotes — all but one negative — about the treatment of Japanese Americans by neighbors without including any positive anecdotes (there must be some) or giving any kind of statistics on how broad those negative behaviors actually were.
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Read if you: Want a powerful account of Japanese-American soldiers pre and post Pearl Harbor and the end of World War II.

Japanese-American soldiers risked their lives at the very same time their parents, grandparents, and siblings were forced into detention camps for no other reason than their Japanese heritage. Not only does this follow an outstanding Japanese-American military unit who fought in Europe, but it also chronicles the brave protest of a Japanese-American conscientious objector. This is magnificently told and very much needed at this moment, when Asian-Americans are once again facing prejudice and racism. 

Librarians/booksellers: This adds a much needed perspective to World War II nonfiction tiles. May is Asian-American & Pacific Islander Month, so this arrives just in time for that. 

Many thanks to Penguin Group Viking and NetGalley for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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