Drawing from Memory

Drawing From Memoryby Allen Say (from galley)

I’m not sure that this is “graphic novel” treatment of Say’s personal life as many have categorized it.  It has text and it has graphics but it feels more like a scrapbook with clippings of thoughts and images (both photographs and drawings).  I probably would call this a picture book memoir.  It is brutally honest: I felt pained by the lack of tenderness and affection from family members that Say received as a child and a youth. But it also shows how one can make one’s own family from those who appreciate and spiritually and emotionally adopt one as a child or a sibling. I hope by making this book, Allen Say has made and found peace with his unhappy past.  This is definitely a title worth sharing with many.

One question though: how would a young reader (say, in 2nd or 3rd grade) perceive the Japan-America conflict of War World II by reading these lines:

page 10: Then a war began in 1941. When bombs started to fall on our city, Mother took us and fled to a village named Tabuse between Hiroshima and Iwakuni.

page 12: When the war ended four years later, everything was broken.

page 13: The American forces occupied Japan on my eighth birthday, August 28, 1945. Our house in Yokohama had been destroyed. Father went to the south island of Kyushu and found work in the city of Sasebo.

I must admit that as a Chinese person who grew up in Taiwan (which was a Chinese province colonized and occupied by Japan for 50 or so years until the conclusion of WWII) and whose mother lost her entire family due to the Japanese occupation of North Eastern China, when I read a Japanese author’s personal perspectives on these events or the time period, I had to forcefully remind myself that: this is a person who happened to have grown up in a country that invaded my own country and that Allen Say was not personally responsible for the atrocity (and yes, it IS an atrocity) that his mother land caused in my mother land way before I was born. And yet, I still wonder if there could have been other ways to make those statements that show clearly to any young reader that War did not come to Japan without Japan’s bringing it on to itself AND that instead of using the word “occupied,” although accurate, Say and his editor could have found a different word to describe the American Forces’ presence in Japan post WWII – especially since the young readers encountering this book most likely wouldn’t have had much background knowledge of the whole sequence of events that led to such occupation.