A Girl Like You (book)
Book cover. Courtesy of Bloomsbury
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As the novel begins, it is 1939 and fourteen year old Satomi Baker lives in the fictional town of Angelina in rural California. Her parents, Aaron and Tamura, are both from Hawai'i, but have escaped to California from families that disapprove of their mixed marriage. Though not truly accepted by either the white or Japanese Americans in town, Satomi has a white best friend and dates the most popular boy in school. As rumors of war circulate, Aaron decides to enlist in the navy and is assigned to Hawai'i, where he is among those killed in the bombing of Pearl Harbor . Prejudice in the town intensifies, and in the spring, Satomi and Tamura are taken first to an unnamed " assembly center " where they live in a horse stall, then to Manzanar. Though conditions are wretched, Satomi and Tamura find a sense of community there, become close friends with their neighbors, the Okihiros—whose son Haru become an object of desire for Satomi—and Satomi finds a sense of purpose in assisting a friendly camp physician, Dr. Harper, and volunteering in the camp orphanage , where she becomes particularly close a four-year-old named Cora. But Tamura's tuberculosis worsens in the camp leading to her death, while Haru joins the 442nd Regimental Combat Team . As the war ends and the camp closes, Satomi heads to New York determined to make a new start, and seems to find a new life there, making the society pages and juggling two suitors. But memories of her mother, Manzanar and Cora continue to haunt her.
Though a fictional story, the real historical figure Ralph Lazo —a non-Japanese American who opted to go with his friends to Manzanar—appears as a character in it as a friend of Satomi's. The sympathetic physician John Harper keeps an archive of documents, photographs, and artifacts of camp life that he later gifts to Satomi and bears some similarity to Manzanar's community analyst Morris Opler .
Background and Historical Accuracy
Author Maureen Lindley was born in Berkshire, England, and grew up on Scotland. According to her official biography, she was trained as a psychotherapist and worked as a photographer, antique dealer and dress designer prior to becoming a novelist. A Girl Like You was her second novel; her first was The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel , based on a real story of a Chinese princess raised in Manchuria who becomes a Japanese spy during the Pacific War. Lindley lives and works in the Wye Valley in southwestern England, near the the Welsh border.
A Girl Like You contains many historical errors, most of them tied to the Bakers' forced removal and incarceration. In particular conditions at the concentration camps are exaggerated, and the timing of various events depicted are off. Among the exaggerations: the Bakers' bank account is frozen in early 1942 (page 87; as a Nisei , Tamura would not have been affected by the freezing of bank accounts, which only applied to Issei ); Japanese Americans are strip searched at the pick up point for removal (98; there were no routine strip searches at any point); armed guards patrol Manzanar (113 and elsewhere; armed guards were limited to the guard towers and perimeter of the camp with the exception of the "martial law" conditions declared during the riot/uprising of December 1942); no newspapers are allowed in Manzanar (131; inmates were allowed to subscribe to outside newspapers and many did); Tamura is paid $6 a month for working on camouflage nets (132; net workers received $16 per month); mail to the camp is censored (207; mail to and from War Relocation Authority camps was not routinely subject to censorship). There are also several references to rat and cockroach infestations, which were not known to be a problem at Manzanar. Other aspects of Manzanar that are wrongly portrayed: several references to wood burning stoves (at Manzanar, the stoves burned heating oil); a claim that the December 1942 riot/uprising was not reported in outside newspapers (182; it was in fact widely reported). Finally, nearly all Manzanar inmates went there directly from their homes without going first to an "assembly center," unlike the Bakers. As residents of rural California, the Bakers would likely have gone to Amache , Gila River , Jerome , Rohwer , or Tule Lake from their assembly center. Among the timing issues: the Bakers' exclusion notice comes "three months after Aaron's death" which would be early March 1942 (82), at least a month earlier than in reality; Haru is set to be drafted shortly after the " loyalty questionnaire " (188; Nisei eligibility for the draft isn't restored for another year).
Among the other errors, the most serious are incorrect definitions of the terms " Kibei " and "burakumin," the former defined as those that "welcome the idea of returning to Japan" (127), the latter as the Japanese word for "orphan" (153; it is a Japanese term referring to outcasts, the lowest rung of the traditional Japanese social order). Other errors: a misspelling of Honolulu's "Nu'uanu Avenue" as "Nuuana" (81); the son of a Manzanar neighbor being in a "citizens' isolation center in Catalina" when the Bakers first arrive at Manzanar (150; this is probably a reference to the Catalina federal prison work camp in Arizona that housed some Japanese American draft resisters in 1944–45, a least a couple of years after this reference); "Kibei" being sent to Tule Lake after the riot/uprising (183; while many of those removed from Manzanar for supposedly being responsible for the "riot" were Kibei, many—including perhaps the most vocal dissident, Joe Kurihara —were not; they were sent initially not to Tule Lake but to WRA prisons at Moab, Utah and Leupp, Arizona ).