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Memoir of Japanese Family's Internment Subject of 16th Annual Santa Monica Reads


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April 13, 2018 -- A 45-year-old memoir that traces a Japanese family's forced removal from their Ocean Park home to a WWII internment camp in the high desert is this year's pick for "Santa Monica Reads," library officials announced this week.

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s 1973 memoir "Farewell to Manzanar" -- which has been adapted for film and stage and become a staple of school reading lists across the country -- is a "fitting" choice for the 16-year-old program, library officials said.

The book will be the topic of "guided conversation, discussion groups and other special programs held throughout the city," said head librarian Patty Wong.

Photograph of Manzanar Internment Camp by Dorthea Lange
Photographs of Manzanar Internment Camp by Dorthea Lange

The program features an appearance by the author on May 12, a slide show presentation of the Manzanar photographs by Dorothea Lange censored by the U.S. Government and a screening of the television film on June 12.

"A modern classic, Farewell to Manzanar has earned its place on many secondary school and college reading lists," library officials said in a statement.

The book, which has sold more than one million copies, "raises issues of racial prejudice, the search for identity and what it means to be American -- themes that continue to resonate 45 years after the book’s publication."

Told from seven-year-old Jeanne’s perspective, the book, co-authored with her husband John Houston, recounts the story of the Wakatsuki family, one of the first to be interned at Manzanar and one of the last to be released.

The book traces how the family's world changed "from being uprooted and losing most of their belongings, to the years following the internment, as they struggle to reintegrate into American society," event organizers said.

"I was suddenly aware of what being of Japanese ancestry was going to be like," Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston wrote. "I would be seen as someone foreign, or as someone other than American, or perhaps not be seen at all.”

For Wakatsuki Houston, who was born in 1934, it will be a return to the town where her father, a commercial fisherman in Long Beach, moved the family when she was two years old.

"Farewell to Manzanar" was adapted into a critically acclaimed television film co-written by the authors that aired in 1976.

In 2001, copies of the film were distributed to every California public school and library as part of a curriculum focusing on history and civil rights.

The book was adapted for the stage by the Cornerstone Theatre Company in 2006.

For more information on this year's Santa Monica Reads program click here.


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