21st Century Manzanar (book)
Creators: Perry Miyake
Book cover. Courtesy of Really Great Books
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The novel begins sometime after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States and imagines an economic crisis that Americans blame on Japan resulting in the scapegoating of all Japanese Americans. As a result, an unnamed president issues Executive Order 9066-A that leads to the "ReVac": a new forced removal of Japanese Americans. While many "voluntarily" move to other countries—the government pays for passage to Japan—others must report to concentration camps, including a rebuilt Manzanar .
Protagonist David Takeda is around fifty, a pony-tailed Sansei from Venice, California, the son of a Nisei gardener. Once a clerk in a record store, he now makes a living by delivering professional eulogies at the many funerals of Japanese Americans. Aided by various friends, he rushes to report to Manzanar by the deadline. But in the meantime, his brother Johnny is beaten to death by white racist thugs while stuck in traffic. His sister Kate along with her husband and two young children wait for him there. At the camp, David get a job cleaning toilets and befriends a young gay neighbor who has a stash of canned food. He also finds himself between two women, a young woman whom he had helped escape from an abusive husband and an old activist friend from the 1970s who is dying of emphysema in the terminal ward. The politically ambitious white female camp director puts on a benign public face, while ruling the camp with an iron fist: any form of dissent is severely punished, with activists suddenly disappearing; order is largely kept by "trustees," Japanese American turncoats who are given privileges for their law enforcement activities; and youth unrest—led in part by David's estranged young nephew—results in a plan for mass sterilization. But David and other Sansei quietly resist in small ways. Meanwhile, David's ex-wife Jenny, a white woman, heads back to the coast from the South, determined to reunite and to get David out. Is there hope in this bleak setting?
Though set in an imaginary future, there are many references to the original Manzanar and the events of World War II through David and other characters' reminiscences about parents and family histories. There are also many descriptions of the Japanese American community in Venice and Los Angeles as a whole in the 1970s, and of the Asian American Movement of that time. The book also includes a lengthy glossary of Japanese American and other related terms used in the book.
Background and Reaction
21st Century Manzanar was the first novel by author Perry Miyake, who had previously been best known as a playwright. Three of Miyake's plays had been produced by the Los Angeles Asian American theater company East West Players: What the Enemy Looks Like (1979), Visitors from Nagasaki (1983), and Doughball (1990). The first and the third also have protagonists named "David" who are about the same age as the protagonist in 21st Century Manzanar ; Doughball is also set in the Venice Japanese American community. Miyake began the project that would become 21st Century Manzanar in the early 1990s also as a play; it was inspired by American attitudes towards Arab Americas during the Gulf War and by the notorious case of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American who was beaten to death by white auto workers in Detroit in 1982 during a period often characterized as a "trade war" between Japan and the U.S. The project eventually became a novel, which Miyake finished days before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Though he made some changes to incorporate the attacks, much of the novel remained unchanged. 
21st Century Manzanar received few reviews. In her Ph.D. dissertation, Emily Hiramatsu Morishima writes that "… Perry Miyake combines the events of the past with the concerns of the present in order to imagine prophetic vision of future community and justice that indicts contemporary structural racial inequities and the violation of civil rights caused by the war on terror that have deep ramifications for the future of our country's democracy." Chau Nguyen wrote that the novel "serves as a daunting prediction of what can happen when mass hysteria and paranoia get out of hand. Even though the novel centers around the Japanese, no reader of any ethnic minority group can set down this book without the unsettling feeling that this situation can possibly recur in the future." 
- Tamayo Irene Morioka-Steffens, "Asian Pacific American Identities: An Historical Perspective Through the Theatre Productions of the East West Players, 1965 to 2000 (Ph.D. dissertation, Claremont Graduate School, 2003), 188–89, 349–54, 468–71; Emily Hiramatsu Morishima, "Remembering the Internment in Post-World War II Japanese American Fiction" (Ph.D. dissertation, UCLA, 2010), 86.
- Morishima, "Remembering the Internment," 86; Chau Nguyen, "History Reenacted in 21st Century Manzanar," UCLA International Institute, Oct. 10, 2003, accessed at http://international.ucla.edu/institute/article/5568 on July 20, 2017.
Find in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration
This item has been made freely available in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration , a collaborative project with Internet Archive .
For More Information
Morishima, Emily Hiramatsu. "Remembering the Internment in Post-World War II Japanese American Fiction." Ph.D. dissertation, UCLA, 2010.
Nguyen, Chau. " History Reenacted in 21st Century Manzanar. " UCLA International Institute, Oct. 10, 2003.
Simal, Begoña. "Revisiting the Campo: A Biopolitical Reading of Perry Miyake’s 21st Century Manzanar." Revista de Estudios Norteamericanos 20 (2016): 159–80.