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the discovery

Kaleidoscopic look at Japanese internment camps


Karen Tei Yamashita’s (“I, Hotel’’) first full work of nonfiction, “Letters to Memory’’ (Coffee House) is a patchwork of documents, photographs, and letters from the Yamashita family during the World War II Japanese internment camps in the United States. In an elegant and searching form, Yamashita addresses letters of explanation and inquiry to Homer, to Ishi, to Vyasa, to Qohelet, “a preacher’s kid,” raising questions of sin and forgiveness, loyalty, death and laughter, aiming a light on a dark period of American history. It’s a challenging, varied work, in moments deeply personal and impressionistic and in moments pulling back into a voice of epic omniscience. She writes: “I am drawn to memories in which we live, and pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh . . . Perhaps this has been the meaning of these letters, though surely no mystery is revealed here. Simply, we have been together for a time to try.”