Saturday, November 5, 2011
Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer
Camp Nine is a coming of age novel set in World War II. The story is seen through the eyes of thirteen year old Chess Morton. Chess is the granddaughter of the local wealthy landowner, Walter Morton, who owns most of the land there in the Delta of Arkansas and influences everything. Far from being raised as a wealthy Southern lady, though, Chess lives in genteel poverty with her mother, Carolina Morton, known as Carrie. Carrie was raised as the only daughter of Italian immigrants, and considered just this side of unacceptable when Walter's son, Walt, fell in love with and married her. Walt, Chess' dad, died early, and Walter and Carrie settled into a pitched battle that would last their lives about their differing world views and their views on how to raise Chess.
It is the mid 1940's and something strange has happened in the Delta. Walter has sold a huge parcel of land to the government and the government has quickly constructed a city there, a city of worn boards and communal kitchens and dining halls. Who will live in this place? The answer arrives with the first trainload of Japanese families. These are the Japanese-American families who lived in California and were rounded up and interned during the war.
Sentiment in the town was quickly divided. Most of the residents, already living in a defined social structure between black and white inhabitants, are against the new residents of the Delta. Of course, these residents are not roaming the town; they are restricted to the land within the barbed wire fences guarded by American soldiers. Carrie, however, is thrilled to see and meet the families there. It reminds her of her time in California, when she attended college there and planned a life as an artist. She quickly volunteers her time as an art teacher and soon has established herself as part of the camp life. Chess accompanies her, and the two become close to many families, especially the Matsui family.
This book is recommended for historical fiction readers. It outlines the life led by the Japanese who were interned during World War I. It also covers the history of the Klan, the social structure of the South, the heroism of the Japanese-American soldiers who fought for their country even as their country treated their families as traitors and suspicious inhabitants. The is Schiffer's first novel, and readers will be ready to read her next one after finishing Camp Nine; ready for more of her deft touch recreating past events.