There are, however, specific parts of the book that give me pause. One example is her descriptions of a dance that Joseph (the main character) does. Given my study of the (inaccurate/romanticized/stereotypical) ways that American Indians are portrayed in most children's and young adult literature, I wondered if Flood's portrayals of the Chamoru (also spelled Chamorro) and Carolinian people---from their dance to their stories---was accurate.
As of this writing (March 29, 2010), reviews from two journals are available. Kirkus gave the book a favorable review, saying
"The understated design, which includes Japanese characters in the chapter titles and brief, impressionistic poems as chapter lead-ins, makes this volume stand out. An important and little-known perspective on World War II."while the review in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books was more qualified:
The narration, however, rings with the formal, stilted cadence generally associated with Hollywood portrayals of cultural outsiders in films of decades past: “‘Kento, I must carry my father to the sea. I cannot carry my father alone.’ Kento did not look up. ‘I am sorry, Joseph. I cannot help you’; “You have turned your back on us. . . . You have become . . . Japanese.” Nonetheless, readers who can visualize the living, breathing characters behind the awkwardly mannered voices will be rewarded with a heart-pounding reimagining of desperate times. A historical note is appended Review Code: Ad -- Additional book of acceptable quality for collections needing more material in the area.The Bulletin's reviewer zeroed in on cadence, referencing Hollywood portrayals of cultural outsiders. That is similar to my concerns with the ways that Flood describes dance (p. 40):
“I had learned from my father the ancient words of the chants and the ancient movements–the leaping, twisting, striking stick against stick. Gleaming with sweat and coconut oil, we danced, beating the rhythm faster and louder. Slapping, whirling, chanting our battle cries, we called to our ancestors. Guide us! Give us strength to leap, to fly, to defeat our enemies.”"Leaping", and "twisting" and "faster and "louder"... Flood's words and image sound a lot like outsider description. In a lot of children’s and YA lit, outsiders describing Native dance say that Native people “stomp” and “leap” and “hop.” See, as one example, page 8 of Sign of the Beaver, or, the illustrations of dance in Dancing with the Indians, or Peter Pan, or, Little House on the Prairie, or, Touching Spirit Bear, or Walk Two Moons, or.... (you get the picture).
I've seen videos of the stick dancing Flood is describing, and it doesn't match with her description. Maybe it is not the same dance. Still, though, I can't imagine an indigenous person describing dance quite that way. That whole section of her book could have been done differently. She could have had Joseph telling the reader how the Japanese describe the indigenous dances. She does this a little bit on page 32, when she writes "But to the Japanese, we are all the same, we are natives, barbaric outsiders, gai-jin."
Like Lyn Miller-Lachman, Warriors in the Crossfire inspired me to learn more about WWII, Saipan, the indigenous peoples of Saipan, Japanese occupation of Saipan, and, the samurai.
I have a copy of Chamoru Childhood, a collection of stories written by Chamoru people. I wrote about it a few months ago here. Knowing Keith Camacho, one of the Chamoru authors in the book, also figures prominently in how I'm responding to Flood's book.
From Keith, I learned about We Drank Our Tears: Memories of the Battles for Saipan and Tinian. The latter is a collection of stories told by men and women who lived through the invasion of Saipan. If you wish, you can go here and see a little of what the book contains. The page includes a bit of info about Benita Borja Cepeda's story, as told to her granddaughter, Madisa Lisa Messo Omni. There are photographs of both, and, the art at the bottom of the page is done by Madisa. Here's an excerpt about the book:
A project of the Pacific STAR Young Writers Foundation under the direction of Katharyn Tuten-Puckett, this new book is a moving collection of stories told to CNMI school children by their elders who experienced the war when they, themselves, were children. Each of the 74 stories, related by the students and accompanied by hand-drawn illustrations and photographs of the students and the elder who's story is being told, is a unique and memorable experience. No one who reads these stories can help but be struck with a profound sense of awe, respect and admiration for these families who's courage and perseverance brought them through the war.I've ordered a copy of We Drank Our Tears and look forward to it.
We Drank Our Tears is important as a history. But perhaps its greater value is in the sharing of the collective experiences that define modern-day Chamorros and Refalawash people. Whether you live on-island or off, this book belongs on your shelf and in the hands of young readers who can only benefit from knowing something of the recent past that had such a profound affect on their parents and grandparents who lived it. It can go a long way toward bridging the generation gap with appreciation and understanding.
In the meantime, I'll work on my analysis of Warriors in the Crossfire. I've got lots of questions. Like on page 39, the Emperor has ordered a victory celebration, and Japanese officials command the men and women of the village to perform. They do "sacred warrior dances." The Japanese men and women sit in chairs and watch the dance. I'd like to know more about that command to dance.
Update, March 30, 6:52 PM
To see a previous discussion of tribal protocols on intellectual property, go here.