The Climate of the Country (book)
Book cover. Courtesy of Marnie Mueller
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A dramatic novel by Marnie Mueller published in 1999 by Curbstone Press set in Tule Lake "Segregation Center" in 1943. The novel is loosely based on the experiences of the author's parents, who were staff members at the camp.
The novel takes place in Tule Lake in the first few months after segregation. The protagonist of the novel is Denton Jordan, an idealistic young conscientious objector who works at Tule Lake as the director of community enterprises, in which capacity he advises the board of the co-op. His wife, Esther, works at the camp as a teacher, and they live in the camp with their toddler daughter. The story follows crises at home and at work. The influx of new inmates after segregation and a new camp director with an authoritarian bent ratchet up tensions in the camp, leading to greater militancy, the militants led by a young Kibei whom Denton had mentored as a co-op board member. Meanwhile Denton's growing immersion in his work and conscientious objector status strain his marriage, particularly since Esther is Jewish and her mother a leading activist in urging greater American awareness of the Holocaust.
The Denson and Esther characters are loosely based on the author's parents, Donald and Ruth Siegel Elberson, who held the same positions at Tule Lake. The author was the first Caucasian baby born at Tule Lake. Mueller began writing the novel in 1977 based on her own recollections and later adding information gleaned from interviewing her parents. After reading several books on the incarceration, she conducted additional research in War Relocation Authority documents in the national archives that included her father's own papers as well as in the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study papers held at the University of California Berkeley that included many recollections of him by various fieldworkers. Many of the other events that take place in the course of novel also appear to be inspired by real events.
The Climate of the Country was one of two finalists in the IPPY Awards 2000, and The Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Awards 2000 awarded it an honorable mention. An Italian translation, L'Aria Che Respiravamo, was published in 1999 by Corbaccio of the Longanesi Group, Milan. It was reissued in paper in 2002 by THEA, also of the Longanesi Group, Milan. Mueller is the author of two other novels, Green Fires: A Novel of the Ecuadorian Rainforest (Curbstone Press, 1994) and My Mother's Island (Curbstone Press 2002). As a result of her novels and her long history of political activism, Peter Jennings included her in his ABC documentary The Century and also as a first-person "voice of the twentieth century" in his book of the same title.
For More Information
Mueller, Marnie. The Climate of Country . Willimantic, Conn.: Curbstone Press, 1999.
---. "A Daughter's Need to Know." In Last Witnesses: Reflections on the Wartime Internment of Japanese Americans. Edited by Erica Harth. New York: Palgrave, 2001. 99–113.
---. "On Writing "The Climate of Country." Marniemueller.com. http://www.marniemueller.com/on_writing__the_climate_of_the_country__12677.htm .
---. "Readers Guide for The Climate of Country." Marniemueller.com. http://www.marniemueller.com/readers_guide_for_the_climate_of_the_country_13078.htm .