Book Club Discussion Questions
1. Harry feels content and secure in Auburn, Washington in the late 1920s and 1930s. Do you think that his youth insulates him? If so, how? If not, what other factors come into play?
2. Kinu and Katsuji Fukuhara send Victor and Mary, their two older children, to Hiroshima to learn Japanese and traditional ways. This was a trend in the 1920s and 1930s that had unimagined consequences. What do you think of their decision and its repercussions?
3. Mary feels abandoned by her parents and stranded in Japan. She would never forgive her mother. How were her feelings understandable? Could her parents and aunt have mitigated her sense of loss and subsequent bitterness?
4. Do you believe that Kinu Fukuhara had no other choice than to move back to Japan in 1933 with her five U.S.-born children? What might you have done in similar circumstances?
5. What surprised you most about Hiroshima before Pearl Harbor?
6. Mary is desperate to return to the United States, to the point of staging a clumsy suicide attempt. What do you think of her preference for the United States over Japan and her determination to return to Seattle alone?
7. Upon his own return to Auburn, Harry is rebuffed by his friends. Were you surprised by his reception in 1938, three years before Pearl Harbor?
8. How does Harry’s life on the West Coast in the late 1930s and early 1940s mirror his father’s immigrant experience?
9. Frank, Harry’s youngest and closest brother, encounters difficulties of his own at his prestigious middle school in Hiroshima. What did you find interesting about his education and environment?
10. Aunt Kiyo was an imperious, magnetic presence in the family’s life. Can you conjure her elegant, dynamic world and sense its gradual crumbling?
11. When the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, Harry was fired on the spot by an employer whom he had regarded as friendly. Can you envision a similar scenario today?
12. The ethnic Japanese population is interned under the guise of national security. How easily could a similar situation occur today?
13. Harry and Mary lose contact with their mother and brothers in Hiroshima several months after Pearl Harbor. Was this for the best?
14. What did you learn about the internment experience that you have not heard before?
15. Harry decides to enlist in the Military Intelligence Service out of Gila River and leaves his sister and niece behind. Explore Harry’s reasons to leave and consider whether it might also have been courageous for him to stay and act as the head of household for Mary and Jeanie.
16. On the surface, it may seem as if Kinu’s and Frank’s lives do not change as much as Mary’s and Harry’s, but their lives too possess drama. How would you describe their living situation as the war persists?
17. What are some of the Japanese qualities, social structures, or slogans that are both strengths and weaknesses? Why?
18. Harry island-hops throughout the Southwest Pacific. What intrigued you most about his journey?
19. Frank suppresses his American identity, yet still feels American at heart. Nevertheless, he is prepared to die for Japan with a bomb strapped to his back. Consider this seeming paradox.
20. What did you learn about the atomic bomb?
21. What did you think of the family’s reunion?
22. As the author, I wanted to capture Victor, but there were few people who remembered him well. How would you describe this reticent young man and his abbreviated life?
23. I was always moved by Harry and Frank’s unwavering bond. What were the most meaningful moments for you?
24. Harry re-enlists in the United States Army and ends up serving almost half a century, with much of the time in Japan. Do you find it intriguing that he subsequently spent so much time there by choice?
25. How did the family come to terms with the atomic bomb?
26. Jeanie described her mother Mary as an “enigma” to the end of her life. Do you believe that Harry was also enigmatic? What are some possible reasons?
27. This book is a work of narrative nonfiction, with a careful weaving of narrative and factual research. Did this approach work for you? Provide examples.
28. What are the take-away messages from a single family’s life?
29. Do you believe that people change the course of history or does history change people?