Jamie Ford has a new book coming out in June – Love and Other Consolation Prizes. However, I want to talk about his debut novel that spent two years on the New York Times Best Seller list: .
In the 1940’s Henry Lee and Keiko Okabe attended Rainier Elementary School where they were labeled “scholarship kids.” This Caucasian prep school accepted students of other races in exchange for services rendered, such as serving lunch in the cafeteria and cleaning duties after school. Surprisingly, this scholarship program still exists today in some private schools.
During this time, America was heading into WWII, and the Asian community was under attack. Even though Henry is an American born Chinese and Keiko is an American born Japanese, both are targets by school bullies as well as adults. While both their families are steeped in Asian traditions, they do realize the value of American education. The friendship of Henry and Keiko takes the two young on a few adventures, like a nightclub jaunt to see Oscar Holden, the famous Jazz pianist. As their friendship grows, Henry and Keiko remain stunned and confused by the attitudes of adults they encounter each day. The war has unleashed a fear of anyone of Japanese descent, and many Asian families begin to discard and burn artifacts of their ancestor’s country and traditions. Late one night Keiko must enlist Henry’s help to save a photo album of her parent’s marriage ceremony, a feat that he does almost at the risk of his life. As the story unfolds, trucks of soldiers descend on the streets of Seattle creating chaos and panic, and Keiko’s family is evacuated to an internment camp.
Decades later, Henry will recount these events when the discarded artifacts of Japanese families are discovered in the basement of an old hotel. Faded memories emerge as Henry finds himself searching and seeing remnants of the past in the bowels of the dark basement. Slowly he recalls childhood events with his son and long forgotten secrets bubble to the surface.