Title: Gardens of Hope
Author: Michael Holloway Perronne
Publisher: Chances Press
Length: 192 Pages
At a Glance: I hope this book gets some wider recognition. The story was timely, and lovely, and so worth the read.
Reviewed By: Jules
Blurb: Can two men from the same city but segregated worlds maintain a connection during a time in US history that not only brands one of them as the enemy but denies that a love such as theirs exists?
On the surface, Jack appears to have all a man in World War II era 1941 could want with his solid middle-class background, upcoming college graduation, and the perfect, devoted fiancee. But one night when he accidentally stumbles upon a shadow life of men who desire other men in a Downtown Los Angeles park, he begins to realize exactly what has always left him with a feeling of emptiness.
Despite the constant danger of being arrested by vice cops, Jack continues to visit the park every chance he has to feel a connection, no matter how fleeting, with another man. One night he meets a handsome and charismatic Japanese-American, Hiro, who appears to want more than a quick encounter, and Jack surprises himself by starting to truly fall in love for the first time.
However, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt issues Executive Order 9066 and orders the mandatory relocation of over 100,000 Japanese-Americans, who have never been charged with a crime, to far flung internment camps sites. Jack and Hiro suddenly find themselves torn apart before their secret, fledgling romance can blossom.
Desperate to find and reconnect with Hiro, Jack accepts a high school teaching position at an internment camp in the California desert, Manzanar. There, surrounded by armed guard towers and a prison-like environment, Jack begins to fully realize the injustices being faced by Japanese-Americans during one of the most controversial times of United States history and shifts his world view- forever.
Review: I love a book that makes you think, and Michael Holloway Perronne’s Gardens of Hope does just that. I like to think of myself as a pretty enlightened person, pretty in tune with what’s happening in America, and with the fact that the America I live in isn’t necessarily the same as someone else’s reality. But, this book made me open my eyes even wider to the still very current problems with racial and class divides, white privilege, and atrocities that are born of fear and basically nothing else.
If you ask just about any American about World War II, the main points of discussion will undoubtedly revolve around Hitler and the horrifying conduct of the Nazi party. They will most likely not bring up the wrongful imprisonment of over one-hundred-thousand Japanese-Americans in ten different internment camps located across the United States. In fact, a large number of Americans don’t even know that in 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, ordering the relocation and ‘detention’ of our own citizens. Another one of the many things your history books didn’t tell you about.
In Perronne’s guest spot on The Novel Approach earlier this week, he talks about his fairly recent education about these camps—in particular Manzanar, where the majority of Gardens of Hope takes place—and how the story evolved. He also talked about the timeliness of the release given the recent executive order signed by the current president, calling for an immigration ban of a specific group of people, which is also rooted almost entirely in fear. The author’s vehicle for getting the story told and educating more people about this piece of American history is the beautiful love story between Jack Henry and Hiro Narita.
On the outside, things seem to be going swell for Jack. He’s in his early twenties, living at home with his parents and siblings, is engaged to a lovely woman, and is about to earn his teaching certificate. Internally, though, he’s struggling with a few things, one of which is his identity. Jack doesn’t understand a huge part of who he is until he accidentally stumbles upon the clandestine meetings between men in the park in Pershing Square. Once he starts visiting the park fairly regularly, he begins to realize that he can’t go forward with marrying his fiancée, Sally. She deserves more than a man who doesn’t fully love her, and who would be forever tempted to seek fulfillment elsewhere, in the shadows. The author uses the term ‘shadow men’ a couple of times in the book, and it really stuck with me. I simply can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to be gay in such a confusing and scary time.
One of the men Jack meets at the park is, of course, Hiro. I loved the author’s description of Jack’s reaction to Hiro, and how quickly each man evoked feelings in the other. This simple passage was so lovely…
‘The warmth of his hand intertwined with mine filled me with a peace I had never experienced before. For the first time, I felt as if I were truly…me.’
Hiro immediately becomes very important to Jack; but, fate rips them apart after only a few encounters, sending Hiro to Seattle to care for a sick grandmother, and then, unbeknownst to Jack, to Manzanar, the internment camp a few hours north of their hometown of Los Angeles.
I should point out that the book begins with Jack asking his great-nephew to drive him to Manzanar to see the museum they’ve created there, and telling him the story of how the camps came to be, and of his first love, Hiro. The entire middle section of the book, the main bulk of the story, is Jack’s recounting of what happened. And, it is riveting. The depiction of life at the camp, on both the internee side and the staff side, was so interesting and seemingly well-researched. It was obvious that the author really did his homework, and wanted to do right by this telling of the injustices inflicted on Japanese-Americans.
I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll leave it there as far as storyline goes. I will say that the writing was understated and engaging, and that I enjoyed Jack’s story very much. And the end, you guys. GAH. Well, not the very end—because I’m not sure I was one hundred percent thrilled with that—but, the bit just before the end….So. Good. I hope this book gets some wider recognition. The story was timely, and lovely, and so worth the read.
You can buy Gardens of Hope here: