Books

The Story behind the book

Tale of Japanese family split by internment and war

Pamela Rotner Sakamoto
David Wilson for the boston globe
Pamela Rotner Sakamoto

Swampscott native Pamela Rotner Sakamoto has fond memories of the Harvard Coop. “My parents used to drive us in every few months, and they would have us choose some books that we were intrigued by,” she said. One book had a particularly large impact: “The first book that I ever bought about Japan — and it’s still in print with the same cover – was this book called “Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories,’’ of Japanese fairy tales.”

Sakamoto went on to study Japanese, live and work in Japan, and marry a Japanese man. This week, she will return to the Coop to read from her own book, “Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds,” which tells the true story of Harry Fukuhara, a retired US Army colonel.

While conducting research on Jewish refugees who had escaped Europe to America via Japan, Sakamoto met Fukuhara. As she began to hear bits of his family history, it became clear that this “epic tale” deserved a book. “Harry volunteered for the US army out of an internment camp,” Sakamoto said, even while his mother and brothers had moved to Hiroshima. “What intrigued was me was: How could he volunteer for an army, first of all, that had interned him and then also with the possibility that, because of his brother’s ages, they would be in the Japanese army and that he could perhaps end up confronting them. How could he fight against his brothers?”

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Researching in both languages and countries, Sakamoto, who has a doctorate from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts, got to know both sides of the Fukuhara family. “I tried to keep the historian’s distance,” she said. “But I really felt and feel very fondly toward them. You could see the whole history of US-Japan relations — immigration to the United States, racism, discrimination, internment, and success — through this one family’s lives.”

Sakamoto will read 7 p.m. Thursday at the Harvard Coop, 1400 Mass. Ave., Cambridge.

Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.