They Called Us Enemy

Top Shelf. Jul. 2019. 208p. ISBN 9781603094504. pap. $19.99. Rated Teen+. memoir
Takei, social media darling, out-and-proud octogenarian, and member of the original Star Trek cast, spent a part of his early childhood in Japanese internment camps during World War II. This purposefully pointed graphic novel, cocreated with writers Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott and artist Becker (Himawari Share), recalls his family’s experience in the camps while providing solid historical context of the incarceration’s broader implications. The story is Takei’s parents’ as much as his own—first-generation Japanese immigrants trying to care for and protect three young American-born children while imprisoned as enemies of the state by virtue of their race. Subtle hints of manga conventions are threaded through straightforward panel comics that serve the narrative at a quick clip. This particular story is expressly crafted for a general audience, with great potential for classroom use, walking a fine line between textbook history and personal anecdote. As the adage suggests, if we forget history, we are doomed to repeat it, and the echoes of internment policies in today’s treatment of immigrants are truly chilling.
VERDICT Takei is nothing if not savvy about his cultural influence, and here he uses that to share a fully fleshed-out and articulate vilification of America’s most xenophobic tendencies.[Previewed in Ingrid Bohnenkamp’s Graphic Novel Spotlight, “Mass Appeal,” LJ 6/19.]
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