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Japanese American Experiences in the Twentieth Century

Our fourth season of Audiobook Break brings listeners the complete cycle of Japanese American Civil Liberties plays produced by L.A. Theatre Works. If you haven’t yet discovered our podcast series of full-length audiobooks, these four complete and fully cast dramas offer you an excellent opportunity to discover listening to history. This cycle of plays, all written by Japanese American playwrights and performed by actors who share the heritages of the characters they portray, makes listeners witnesses to history. During WWII, the U.S. government went well beyond limiting the domestic activities of “enemy aliens” to intern all 120,000 residents and citizens of Japanese ancestry—some reaching as far back as the immigration of their grandparents.

Covers for the Japanese American Civil Liberties collection titles

The season opens on September 13 with HOLD THESE TRUTHS, based on Gordon Hirabayashi’s legal fight against his WWII-era arrest for being out after curfew. Next up is NO-NO BOY, dramatized from the first Japanese American literary work, a novel of the same name, featuring the conundrum faced by interned American men who are ordered to fight for the United States during the war. SISTERS MATSUMOTO continues to follow historical events with a story of one family’s immediate post-Internment life. FOR US ALL presents the legal drama of Fred Korematsu’s fight in the courts to win his case of wrongful conviction 40 years after the Internment. You can find details about this podcast series on our website.

To set the stage and to extend understanding of the real-life events depicted in these dramas, AudioFile has pulled together a list of supplemental audiobook titles exploring Japanese American experiences during the twentieth century. While there are more audiobooks available than the dozen or so on our curated list, we have chosen to focus on those written by members of the Japanese American community.

The Color of AirAmong the titles, authors, and narrators featured in this genre-crossing list, we start with Gail Tsukiyama’s novel THE COLOR OF AIR. Co-narrators Brian Nishii and Natalie Naudus convey this prewar story of Japanese Americans from the mainland and Japanese immigrants laboring in Hawaii. In addition to offering a fine ghost story well performed, the audiobook sets the stage for a better understanding of how nuanced Japanese heritage was in the United States during the prewar years.

SILVER LIKE DUST, written by Kimi Cunningham Grant and performed by Emily Woo Zeller, is the memoir of a now elderly woman who recounts her experiences while interned at Heart Mountain Relocation Camp. In conversations with her granddaughter, the author, she reveals the many identities she claimed during WWII: American, bride, mother, and political prisoner. Thanks to Zeller’s steady pace, we are swept along with one family’s dislocation from Southern California to Wyoming and their lives across the decades after the war.

Clark and DivisionNaomi Hirahara’s mystery CLARK AND DIVISION is set in Chicago, where the protagonist and her family have been sent for post-Internment resettlement. Narrator Allison Hiroto’s compelling voice for this well-researched novel allows listeners to experience its elegant prose and authentic period details—all through the perspective of its heroine. The fact that the immediate postwar experiences of those who had been interned involved their being sent away yet again is important for understanding how the Internment experience stretched well beyond the war’s end.

A Place To belong

A PLACE TO BELONG, by Cynthia Kadohata and narrated by Jennifer Ikeda, provides young listeners with a story of forced dislocation. Speaking from the perspective of a child whose awareness reaches back only as far as the Internment, Kadohata and Ikeda take us along as one family makes the postwar decision to denounce their American citizenship and move to Japan. Ikeda brings the entire family to life, making this an accessible and enjoyable story, as well as an accurate portrait of post-Internment and postwar traumas.

Tune in three times a week to the Audiobook Break podcast of L.A. Theatre Works’ Japanese American Civil Liberties cycle and explore our curated list to enrich your listening experience.

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