05 Nov / The New Sun by Taro Yashima
What an amazing, unique, and LUCKY find! First published in 1943 by one of the oldest U.S. publishers, Henry Holt and Company, and in spite of excellent reviews plus a multi-year marketing campaign by both publisher and an early publicist who worked to get the book out even without pay, The New Sun originally proved to be a publishing failure.
“Nobody will buy a book from a Jap,” a Holt salesman rightfully concluded during those difficult years of World War II (when 120,00 Americans of Japanese descent were locked away in U.S. prison camps just for looking like the enemy) and immediately following. The book languished for decades, until it was rediscovered and re-issued last year from the University of Hawai’i Press’s “Intersections: Asian and Pacific American Transcultural Studies” series edited by APA academic pioneer Russell Leong. Hopefully, the new edition will rightfully find a much larger audience.
Like Miné Okubo’s classic Citizen 13660, Yashima’s is a memoir told in sketches and text. Like Okubo’s title, New Sun is both an indictment against an unfair government, and a plea for understanding of the individual people. At the heart of New Sun is the brutal experience Yashima and his then-pregnant wife endured in the hands of the secret Japanese military police who imprisoned and tortured them for their anti-imperialist activism. In order to be released, he was forced to write his personal history … but the first one bore too much truth and he was savagely beaten. He finally wrote his “confession” to appease the demanding authorities and gain freedom.
Yashima’s heartbreaking depictions of the people, especially his fellow prisoners, are the story’s strength. From his rural village doctor father who claimed “‘The peoples of the world are brothers. Doctors are made for humanity,'” Yashima learns early the value of every life. “The feeling of friendship in our cell was so complete that I thought to myself, perhaps this is a sample of the future world,” Yashima marvels at his fellow survivors.
Taro and Mitsu Yashima are the pseudonyms for Jun and Tomoe Iwamatsu, an activist artist couple who arrived as political refugees in 1939. They took new names to protect the safety of the young son they were forced to leave behind in Japan, the child who survived imprisonment in his mother’s womb. Fluent in both English and Japanese, Taro served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. But in spite of his valiant service, it took a much-petitioned act of Congress to finally allow the couple to bring their son to the U.S. after WWII. That son, Makoto Iwamatsu, is better known today as the late mega-award-winning actor, Mako! [I’ve linked an older article I did on the groundbreaking, amazing Mako … click on his name.]
Both Taro and Mitsu became successful children’s book author/illustrators – Taro’s Crow Boy garnered a Caldecott Honor in 1956 – not to mention leading some adventurous lives. Their amazing story apparently continues in Horizon Is Calling, which I’ve finally tracked down from a used book source … so stay tuned.
Readers: Young Adult, Adult
Published: 1943, 2008 (re-issued with new preface)