Silent Honor (book)
Creators: Danielle Steele
Book cover. Courtesy of Delacorte Press
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Novel by bestselling author Danielle Steel about a Japanese American family in the San Francisco Bay Area and their wartime odyssey in American concentration camps, highlighting a romance between a niece recently arrived from Japan and a white college professor.
We meet Masao and Hidemi Takashima, a modern Japanese couple with two children who live in Kyoto, where Masao is a university professor in political science. Long fascinated by the United States, where his cousin and best friend, Takeo Tanaka, lives, he teaches his children English, and when his daughter Hiroko finishes high school, he decides to send her to live with Takeo's family so she can go to college in the U.S. Though she doesn't want to go, she agrees to try it for a year. It is the fall of 1941.
Takeo is also a political scientist and teaches at Stanford. His wife, Reiko, is a Kibei and nurse. They have three children, ranging in age from sixteen to eight. Though encountering extreme culture shock from living with her highly Americanized cousins, Hiroko adapts slowly and becomes a welcomed member of the Tanaka family. Her experience at St. Andrews College is less happy, as her two roommates—and seemingly most of the rest of the student body—are highly prejudiced against anyone Japanese. Her weekend visits with the Tanakas become more frequent as a surreptitious romance breaks out between Hiroko and Takeo's young colleague and close friend, Peter Jenkins. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor begins a chain of events that see the Tanakas—along with all other Japanese Americans on the West Coast—forcibly removed and sent to concentration camps. They go first to the Tanforan Assembly Center , then to Tule Lake . Peter visits them every day at Tanforan, until he has to report for military service. At Tule Lake, Hiroko reveals she is pregnant and soon gives birth to a baby boy of obvious mixed-race origin. She also learns that her brother has been conscripted into the Japanese army and has been killed in battle. Her cousin and the Tanaka's only son enlists for the army from Tule Lake, and he too is killed in battle in Europe. Then the letters from Peter stop coming. Will he survive the war and if so, will their romance survive?
Much of the novel depicts the trauma of the forced exclusion and life in the concentration camps: the subpar facilities, lack of privacy and breakdown in family life. Since they are at Tule Lake through the loyalty questionnaire episode and after the camps becomes a " segregation center ," clashes between the loyalist and dissident inmate factions are depicted. But there are many errors and exaggerations in these depictions (see below).
Danielle Steel (1947– ) is referred to by Contemporary Authors Online as "nothing less than a publishing phenomenon," listing her book sales as north of 590 million books, making her one of the best-selling authors in publishing history. Silent Honor , her 38th novel, had a first printing of two million copies. Released in late November 1996, it entered Publishers Weekly's (PW) bestsellers list on the week of November 18 and was number one on that list for the next two weeks. Despite its late in the year release, it was #7 on PW's list of best selling hard-cover fiction in 1996, selling 1.25 million copies by the end of the year. The mass-market paperback version was #4 of PW's list of 1997 bestsellers, selling 2.8 million copies.
Reviews were mixed. Publishers Weekly cites ""Steel's slapdash prose and stereotypical characterizations [that] produce a formulaic tale," but also that she "succeed[s] in telling a poignant story." Terri Theiss of the Christian Science Monitor laments that "what could have been a fascinating story with original insights is simply pleasant in a formulaic way." Barbara E. Kemp of Library Journal calls it "predictable," and Kirkus Reviews calls is a "color-by-the-numbers historical tract" with "a sappy end [that] is tacked on." 
While Silent Honor does provide a more-or-less accurate account of Japanese American life in the concentration camps, there are several errors or implausibilities and a broader tendency to make the hardships even greater than they really were. Among the errors are some basic numbers and dates: Steel writes that there ten thousand at Tanforan (page 206), which had a peak population of 7,816 and eighty thousand at Tule Lake (287), some four times the actual peak population there. The Tanakas find out that their son has been killed in action in Europe on New Year's Day 1944 (302); those who volunteered from the camps like him were still in basic training at that time. A reference to the removal of Japanese Americans from Bainbridge Island, Washington claims there went to "a local fairground" (158); they were actually sent directly to Manzanar . Most notably, the Tanakas are sent from Tanforan to Tule Lake and the son's girlfriend's family to Manzanar; in reality, nearly all from Tanforan were sent to the Topaz , Utah, concentration camp.
Among the exaggerated hardships and condition are descriptions of Tanforan that include "a long line of open toilets," a horse stall residence that is "open to the air," and "filled with manure" (182); Steel describes the men staying up until 2 a.m. "cleaning two feet of manure out of a horse stall" (186). The most serious example involves the Tanakas' transfer from Tanforan to Tule Lake that is depicted in chapters 12 and 13: while Reiko and the kids are taken directly to Tule Lake, both Takeo and Hiroko are taken to a mysterious camp on separate trains and harshly interrogated. After a month, Hiroko is released to Tule Lake, with Takeo following later; the mysterious camp turns out to be a separate area of Tule Lake. This episode has no basis in reality.
- Publishers Weekly , Oct. 28, 1996, 58; Terri Theiss, Christian Science Monitor , Dec. 19, 1996, 14; Barbara E. Kemp, Library Journal , Dec. 1996, 148; Kirkus Reviews , Oct. 1, 1996, accessed on June 12, 2016 at https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/danielle-steel/silent-honor/ .
Kemp, Barbara. Library Journal , Dec. 1996, 148. ["Although it may be predictable, this novel is a reminder of a shameful episode in American history that should not be forgotten."]
Kirkus Reviews , Oct. 1, 1996. ["If prosaic and simple, a glimpse nonetheless into a shameful episode in American history."]
Publishers Weekly , Oct. 28, 1996, 58. ["Steel's slapdash prose and stereotypical characterization produce a formulaic tale, albeit more earnest and didactic than her usual fare..."]
Theiss, Terri. Christian Science Monitor , Dec. 19, 1996, 14. ["... what could have been a fascinating story with original insights is simply pleasant in a formulaic way."]