Behind the Book, 3


Illustration by Julia Ogden (juliaogden.com)

This is the third image in the series of illustrations of my novel, THE WILD IMPOSSIBILITY. (Note: someone recently asked me if these illustrations are in the book; they are not.) The WW2 internment camp Manzanar, in the high desert of Owens Valley, California, housed 10,000 Japanese and Japanese American prisoners at its peak (which made it the largest city in Owens Valley at the time). Now Manzanar is a National Historic Site (closed, at the time of this writing, due to the government shutdown), and it’s there that my protagonist, Kira, goes to search for a connection to her grandmother Maddalena and the man she believes was her grandfather. The fragments mentioned in the second paragraph are what Kira has come to believe are her grandmother's memories.

“Kira walked. At the southeast corner of the camp, the strangled trickle of Bairs Creek cut through what had been a picnic area. Some playground that must have been, with a guard tower looming overhead. The wind grabbed handfuls of dust, tossed them joyfully. In their wake, only loneliness and the feeling that the wind could abrade a person, scrape away skin and muscle and bone until nothing was left. She’d had enough.
"[…] Kira hurried to the parking lot, ignoring the signs and markers and their impossible task of re-creating the past. Nothing could reveal the truth about life in this horrific place. Barracks, churches, hospital—little but wood and tarpaper, cheap imitations of life outside the fence, desperate attempts at refuge. They said nothing about the spirit of the people who lived here. People who suffered, like Akira. He lived here by force, loved someone forbidden to him because of who he was. The desert filled Kira’s mouth, coated her skin. Manzanar was too barren to trigger any fragments, too stripped of meaning and memory by wind and blowing sand. The remnants of life here lay long buried in dust. When people left this place at last, they took everything with them. Manzanar was a ghost town without the town, without the ghosts.”

I took a research trip to Manzanar while writing THE WILD IMPOSSIBILITY, and it was a surreal experience. Like Kira, I wandered the site trying to imagine what life there had been like—in the camp itself and in its desert setting, with brutal temperature extremes and no adequate shelter. That was in 2012, and I had no idea how timely (unfortunately) the topics of racism and xenophobia would be in 2019, at the time of the book’s publication. That’s all I’ll say about that—instead, I’ll let my book’s two strong, righteous women, Kira and Maddalena, speak for me.

© 2018 by Cheryl A. Ossola