Fox Drum Bebop (book)
Creators: Gene Oishi
Book cover. Courtesy of Kaya Press
View in the Densho Encyclopedia
Novel by Gene Oishi that tells the saga of the Konos, a Japanese American farming family from coastal California, covering the years 1940 to 1982. Largely based on the author's own life and family, each chapter is a stand alone short story set in a particular time period. Early chapters covering the prewar years and the upheavals of World War II are told from the perspective of different family members, while later chapters covering the postwar years are largely through the perspective of Hiroshi, the character based on the author. Fox Drum Bebop was published by Kaya Press in 2014 and received the 2016 Association for Asian American Studies book award in the Creative Writing: Prose category.
The early chapters begin just prior to World War II. Seiji Kono, who had migrated from Japan in 1903, had become a prosperous farmer in the town of Hacienda, California, farming over 1,000 acres and co-owning a packing house. A respected community leader, he is also an enthusiastic performer of joruri , an offshoot of kabuki. He and his wife Otsui have five children, ranging in age from twenty-seven to eight when the war comes. Seiji is arrested and taken away after he drunkenly celebrates the attack on Pearl Harbor with friends. The rest of the family is caught up the forced removal and incarceration of all Japanese Americans on the West Coast, ending up in an unspecified concentration camp in Arizona. Confinement splinters the family, as the eldest son Yukio, a Kibei , and the middle son Mickey, a member of a Japanese American Citizens League -type organization, clash. After Mickey is beaten up, Yukio is removed to Tule Lake , and Mickey volunteers for the army. Hiroshi, the youngest son, explores the desert with his friends.
After the war, Hiroshi and his parents return to Hacienda. In high school there and in San Pedro, where Mickey has opened a cafe, Hiroshi finds solace in music, becoming a devotee of jazz. Later chapters colorfully chronicle Hiroshi's stint in the army, largely spent in an army band in France; his college years in the San Francisco Bay Area; a 1960 trip to Japan with his parents; the beginning of his journalistic career in Baltimore and his marriage to a French woman; and the death of his parents and lingering impacts of incarceration in the 1980s.
A journalist best known for his work with the Baltimore Sun —and for being called a "Fat Jap" by then Vice President Spiro Agnew—Oishi began writing what he hoped would be "the great Japanese-American novel" in 1965. In his 1988 memoir In Search of Hiroshi , Oishi writes that he completed an autobiographical novel in 1976, while on leave from the Sun . He also talks about his difficulty in writing about the events of the war years and about how it was easier for him to write about them in the third person about a boy named Hiroshi, something he did in 1960s newspaper pieces that touch on the incarceration. Oishi writes about many of the events in Fox Drum Bebop that he discussed in the earlier book. In his review of the book, historian Arthur A. Hansen writes that this novelistic treatment "makes all the difference... in that Oishi, being freed from the bonds of strict factuality, is released to plumb the depths of subjective truth."
Might also like: Manzanar to Mount Whitney: The Life and Times of a Lost Hiker by Hank Umemoto; Starting from Loomis and Other Stories by Hiroshi Kashiwagi; Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire by David Mura.
|Awards||Association for Asian American Studies book award, Creative Writing: Prose|
Hansen, Arthur A. " A Young Nisei's Life, Reimagined ." Discover Nikkei, Nov. 25, 2014. ["As good a book as In Search of Hiroshi is, Fox Drum Bebop is still better.... Oishi, being freed from the bonds of strict factuality, is released to plumb the depths of subjective truth."]
Jodoin, Aimee . Foreword Reviews , Feb. 27, 2015. [" Fox Drum Bebop contains entertainment and wisdom for a wide audience, showing how the process of surviving can change us."]
Xie, Jenny . The Hopkins Review (New Series) 8.3 (Summer 2015): 454–56.