January 3, 2022

Review: Displacement

Displacement Displacement by Kiku Hughes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This graphic novel surprised me. It's a time travel story patterned after Octavia Butler's masterpiece Kindred, in that the method of time travel is not explained and it's very much not the point of the story. The point of the story is the protagonist's being drawn back to when her Japanese grandmother was sent to the "incarceration camps" (the term the author chooses) during World War II, and what Kiku learns there. It's about Kiku's experiencing the dehumanization of being imprisoned and having her rights stripped away for what she might do, without due process and without proof, just because she shared an ethnicity with those who bombed Pearl Harbor. It's about generational trauma, both in the effects of the camps--first Tanforan in California, and then Topaz in Utah--and what Kiku and her family lose due to the shame they feel because of their experience (including the Japanese language, which is not taught to the next generation). Above all, it's a warning to be vigilant, because it's so easy for a group to be demagogued and cast as the role of the "other," and for the whole terrible cycle to start up again.

This book is set in 2016 for an obvious reason: the former president, whom I've seen called "TFG" (which I assume stands for "That Fucking Guy"), and his raging against Muslims. This, together with the eyewitness impression of Kiku's and her mother's visits to the past to see what her grandmother went through, makes them stand up and protest TFG's policies at the book's end. The last page says this:

Our connection to the past is not lost, even if we don't have all the documents. Even if we never learn the details. The memories of community experiences stay with us and continue to affect our lives. The persecution of a marginalized group of people is never just one act of violence--it's a condemnation of generations to come who live with the ongoing consequences. We may suffer from these traumas, but we can also use them to help others and fight for justice in our own time.

Memories are powerful things.

The art style is perfect for this story, and I really liked it. It's clean and crisp and centered on the page, and pulls the reader in. The panels are never rushed or crowded. It's a quiet sort of story in that there's no violent rebellion in the camps, but Kiku learns exactly what her grandmother went through, and why it must never be forgotten.

At the very end we learn that this is a true story--at least as best as the author could reconstruct it--and we see pictures of the actual Ernestina Teranishi and her violin. We also see the author visiting the Topaz Museum. This is an important story of a shameful moment in American history that should never be forgotten, and kudos to books like these for carrying the torch.

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