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Garden of Stones (book)

Creators: Sophie Littlefield

Book cover. Courtesy of Harlequin
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

Popular novel by Sophie Littlefield centering on three generations of Japanese American women whose lives are dramatically shaped by the wartime incarceration of the elder two at Manzanar .

Synopsis and Background

The novel begins in 1978 with the mysterious death of a gym proprietor in San Francisco and the police questioning of Lucy Takeda, who witnesses describe as having been at the scene. We then go back to 1941, when Lucy was a beautiful and somewhat spoiled 8th grader and only child of Renjiro Takeda, a successful businessman, and Miyako Takeda, described as strikingly beautiful but fragile. World War II dramatically changes the family's fortunes, as Renjiro is first felled by an apparent heart attack, followed by the forced removal and incarceration of Miyako and Lucy at Manzanar. Lucy adjusts quickly, landing a job as a courier and a charming boyfriend named Jesse. However, Miyako is forcibly drawn into an affair with a brutish white garment shop owner who is part of a ring of camp staffers who prey on women and children in the camp. When Miyako becomes pregnant and her captor makes it clear that Lucy is next, she embarks on a course of action that leads to her death and to Lucy's disfigurement. In the 1978 present of the book, Lucy's soon-to-be married daughter Patty tries to figure out details of her mother's past from the little Lucy tells her and what if any connection she has to the dead man.

Littlefield is a San Francisco-based writer of mystery, thriller, and paranormal novels, including several for young adults. Garden of Stones was her first historical novel. In an interview included at the end of book, Littlefield credits an author friend from California for telling her about the Japanese American incarceration, something that Littlefield, as a native Midwesterner, had learned little about. In the course of her research, she visited the Manzanar National Historic Site. Though set in a unique time and place, it is centered on a mother/daughter relationship as is the case with many of her other books.

Reception and Historical Accuracy

Mainstream reviewers mostly praised the book, citing the book's structure and central mystery, the historical setting, and the strength and believability of the women characters. However Asian American reviewers found fault with invented elements in the depiction of the incarceration.

Garden of Stones does have a number of historical inaccuracies, most minor. These include a claim that the Rafu Shimpo newspaper was an all-Japanese language publication prior to the war (it included an English section from the mid-1920s); the Takedas report to Manzanar on March 22, a week earlier even than denizens of Bainbridge Island , Washington, the first community to removed en masse; in Manzanar, Lucy meets kids from Central California and Sacramento who would in reality have been sent to other concentration camps. Two more major issues end up playing key roles in the book's plotting. The barracks that the Takedas are housed in is described as being heated by a single oil heater that is down a hallway connecting the barracks rooms; this arrangement plays a key role in perhaps central scene in the book. But barracks at Manzanar and other camps did not have hallways; the door to each partitioned "apartment" opened directly outside. Furthermore, each "apartment" in the barracks had a stove. Later, Lucy is allowed to leave Manzanar to work at a motel in Lone Pine—a town near the camp—in 1943. But all of California remained off limits to Japanese Americans until the beginning of 1945.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like: A Bridge Between Us by Julie Shigekuni; Why She Left Us by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto; After the Bloom by Leslie Shimotakahara

Media Details
Author Sophie Littlefield
Pages 301
Publication Date 2013


Hong, Terry . BookDragon: Books for the Multi-Culti Reader , Sept. 3, 2014. ["Narrative liberties in historical fiction might be assumed, but this abusive hypersexualization of imprisoned Japanese American women treads on dangerously misleading territory indeed. Final words? Read at your own risk ..."]

Niiya, Brian. " Garden of Stones and Historical Accuracy". Densho Blog, Sept. 27, 2014. ["Readers of this book will learn about the incarceration while learning about its impact on characters they get to know and identify with."]

Price, Cynthia. Library Journal , Dec. 2012, 80. ["Littlefield's fans and those who enjoy historical novels are sure to devour this one."]

Publishers Weekly , Nov. 5, 2012, 48–49. ["While some plot twists are predictable, the gripping story, unfolding over two different decades, makes up for it.']

Rochman, Hazel. Booklist , Dec. 1, 2012, 23. ["The young women's viewpoints will draw older teens into the story of a family and the political history that surrounds it."]