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Sex, drugs and rock and roll. What more does a novel need?

Be prepared to take a trip when reading When Life Was Like a Cucumber by Greg Wyss. This trip will be unlike any one you have ever taken before. That is unless you were in your 20s, living in the late 1960s and early 1970s on the East coast, more 

Book By Author:  K.P. L Kollenborn

Eyes Behind Belligerence
 Eyes Behind Belligerence
 1470168162 9781470168162


"Since the existence of the camps, like Indian reservations, these desert colonies allotted by the government suggested a paradox: They were not prisoners of war, but they were not free. They were not citizens, but they were not foreigners either. They existed on land owned by the American government, but were no longer a part of America." excerpt from the novel.

Could YOU forgive the unspeakable? Told in five parts, this novel unravels the challenges between two unlikely Nisei friends, Jim and Russell, into adulthood during the Second World War. As restrictions are imposed, (even in the safe, rural community of Bainbridge Island,) as harassments escalate, (including the F.B.I. invading their homes and deporting their fathers to Montana for espionage trials,) the fated day arrives: evacuation of all Japanese civilians. Rounded up like cattle, tagged, they are hauled to the fringes of Death Valley: Manzanar. Together they must survive racism, gang violence, and the harsh elements of the environment. Together they must prove their loyalty, especially after a tragic riot on the eve of Pearl Harbor's anniversary. While Russell enlists in a segregated army, becoming part of one the most decorated units in U.S. history, Jim is sent to a different camp for the "No-No" boys: those who are marked disloyal. Removed from their families, they are forced to reevaluate their identities and discover, most importantly, what it means to forgive. 

Part One begins with the suicide of Jim's older brother. Nearly four years later, Jim continues to suffer, isolating himself and blaming his father. Russell is his opposite. Out-going and idealistic, he is the All-American boy. The escalation of Pearl Harbor's consequences has Russell facing harassment and rejection while Jim faces vandals at his father's store and a fight with the school bully. At the beginning neither are friends, but it will be the frenzied evacuation which compels them to bond.

Part Two extends their friendship and fragile trust. With the camp impounding 10,000 people, they are trapped behind a barbed wire fence and watchtowers. Family tensions accumulate midst the summer's heat. A brutal white MP, Callis, terrorizes Russell. Bored and frustrated, Russell befriends a gang of yogores: mischievous hooligans and engages in theft and gang violence. Withdrawing from his family, he fumbles for his place. Jim despairs from idleness but ironically finds freedom from his father's harsh traditions. Yet, Russell and Jim manage to keep their humor and find sweethearts.

Parts Three and Four intertwines the political and social clashes of camp life a year after Pearl Harbor. Pro-Americans versus Anti-Americans. People accuse others of being inus: FBI informants. Lists from both sides are fabricated to determine loyalties. A riot explodes. In the chaos, soldiers are dispersed to the scene with loaded rifles and machine guns. Shots fire into the crowd. Russell discovers a friend dead on the ground and is left to examine his own life. Two months later, a recruiting officer seeks for volunteers to join a segregated combat unit. Then a loyalty questionnaire circulates. Jim and Russell are passionately divided. Russell enlists to prove his loyalty because he believes that change will occur through honor and sacrifice. By joining the 442nd, he becomes a part of one of the most decorated units in US history. Ironically, his unit liberates a German concentration camp. The comparison is not only somber, but also extremely baffling. As he empathizes with the gaunt hostages of war, he sees the effect of the world. Jim, however, remains bitter and is sent to different camp for the "No-no" boys: those who are considered disloyal. Torn from his family, Jim is forced to mature. At Tule Lake, he embarks on his own leadership skills, but contemplates defeating to Japan. In a journal he relays his thoughts, "Exiled, shamed and damned like bastards, we stare through these barbed wire fences, our eyes, our eyes betrayed by this world; our eyes behind belligerence."

Part Five concludes when both families return to Bainbridge Island after the war. The four year separation from his father has affected Jim. He starts to forgive his father for his brother's suicide and decides to stay on Bainbridge Island. Russell enrolls in college- compliments of the GI bill. Jim and Russell resolve to remain friends, planning to open a business together, starting their lives over. This part also plays full circle of family and community ties.


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Author:  K.P. L Kollenborn