Tule Lake (book)
Book cover. Courtesy of House by the Sea Publishing Company
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Novel by Edward Miyakawa set in the eponymous concentration camp. Tule Lake was likely the first novel by a Japanese American set in one of the World War II concentration camps to be published when it first appeared in 1979. It was also notable for its unflinching portrayal of life in the most repressive of the camps.
Author Edward Miyakawa (1934– ) grew up in the Sacramento area and was incarcerated with his family at Tule Lake as a child. Years later, while working as an architect in Berkeley, the 1965 Watts Riots took place, inspiring him to write about his reactions to it, which in turn led to his wanting to write about the Japanese American incarceration experience. But interviews with his parents and their friends led only their telling him "funny stories" about their incarceration. Subsequent research led him to the two early books generated out of the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study , The Spoilage (1946) and The Salvage (1952), the first of which ends up focusing on Tule Lake. In a 2007 oral history, he said about those books, "it just absolutely blew my mind."  He began to write a novel about the Tule Lake experience based in part on The Spoilage while also drawing on elements of his family's story, working on it over the next decade while continuing his work as an architect. Unsuccessful in generating interest from a mainstream publisher, he eventually found a small publishing company run by a friend in Oregon, where Miyakawa and his family also lived, and it was published in 1979. He reported that the book sold around 8,000 copies.  After the 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., the novel was republished in 2002 by Trafford Publishing of Victoria, British Columbia.
The book is told in the first person voice of Ben Seiichi Senzaki, a Kibei who had lived in Japan until age ten, before returning to his family in Sacramento. His father is a successful Issei newspaper publisher and pharmacy owner, and Ben becomes a Harvard educated lawyer while his younger brother Gordie is a pharmacy student at USC and active member of the Japanese American Citizens League when the war breaks out. The novel portrays the thriving Japanese community in Sacramento that is destroyed by the incarceration, then follows Ben and his family and friends to Tule Lake, where they become caught up in the particular difficulties specific to that camp. As a fully bilingual lawyer, Ben reluctantly becomes a leader at Tule Lake, but his refusal to fill out the loyalty questionnaire and penchant for being involved in the growing unrest draws the ire of administration and lands him the stockade, while his disdain for the growing Japanese nationalism in the camp lands him on the blacklists of nationalist groups, putting his life in jeopardy. The novel portrays many of the key episodes in the history of Tule Lake through Ben and the many supporting characters.
Reviewer Neil Nakadate of MELUS hailed the book as taking "a significant place in the literature on internment" given the dearth of Japanese American literature to that point that dealt with that experience. Comparing Ben to Ralph Ellison's invisible man and John Okada's No-No Boy , Nakadate writes that "Miyakawa's greatest strength may be his insistence on the darker realities of relocation, the realities that mock our need always to find some sort of consolation in a debacle of our past."  In the Hawaii Herald , Warren Iwasa calls Tule Lake an "ambitious novel" whose "strength is its brilliant depiction of Japanese culture in America prior to the war and the somewhat different culture of the camps."  In The Asian Reporter , Douglas Spangle calls it "... a well turned realist novel as ell as an act of bravery and personal witness."  In 2005, the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission selected Tule Lake as one of the 100 Oregon books for the years 1800 to 2000 "that exemplify the best of Oregon's rich literary heritage." 
- Edward Miyakawa Oral History, Part 4, Aug. 18, 2007 by Elizabeth Uhlig, "Japanese-American Association of Lane County, Oregon Oral History Collection," p. 3, accessed on March 26, 2013 at http://osulibrary.oregonstate.edu/digitalcollections/jaa/miyakawa.html .
- Miyakawa Oral History, p. 7.
- Neil Nakadate, MELUS 8.2 (Summer 1981): 100–04.
- Warren Iwasa, "Camp Life" Hawaii Herald , Aug. 1, 2003, A8–A9.
- Douglas Spangle, The Asian Reporter , Sept. 2–8, 2003, pp. 13, 16, accessed on March 25, 2013 at http://www.asianreporter.com/reviews/2003/36-03tulelake.htm .
- "The 100 Oregon Books," Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission website, accessed in March 27, 2013 at http://www.ochcom.org/100books/ .
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 .
Might also like: The Issei Prisoners of the San Pedro Internment Center by Stanley Kanzaki; Two Homelands by Toyoko Yamasaki; Color of the Sea by John Hamamura
For More Information
Miyakawa, Edward. Tule Lake . Waldport, Oregon: House by the Sea Publishing Company, 1979. Victoria, British Columbia: Trafford Publishing, 2002.
Edward Miyakawa Oral History. Aug. 18, 2007 by Elizabeth Uhlig. “Japanese-American Association of Lane County, Oregon Oral History Collection." http://osulibrary.oregonstate.edu/digitalcollections/jaa/miyakawa.html .
Tule Lake at Trafford Publishing site, http://bookstore.trafford.com/Products/SKU-000133405/Tule-Lake.aspx .
Iwasa, Warren. "Camp Life." Hawaii Herald , Aug. 1, 2003, A8–9. [" Tule Lake is an ambitious novel, a literary construct with elegant and evocative sentences. It is not wholly successful; its transitions are sometimes elliptical and hard to follow."]
Nakadate, Neil. MELUS 8.2 (Summer 1981): 100–04. ["Miyakawa’s greatest strength may be his insistence on the darker realities of relocation, the realities that mock our need always to find some sort of consolation in a debacle of our past."]
Spangle, Douglas. The Asian Reporter , Sept. 2–8, 2003, pp. 13, 16. ["… a well turned realist novel as ell as an act of bravery and personal witness."]
Kinoshita, Lisa. " Tule Lake ." International Examiner 7.9 (Sept. 15–Oct. 15, 1980): 14.