Letters to Memory by Karen Tei Yamashita

By g emil reutter
Governor Brown of California issued a proclamation on February 19th, A Day of Remembrance: Japanese American Evacuation in the State of California. The proclamation read in part:
That thousands of Japanese American citizens were wrongfully interned in American concentration camps without charge and without a fair hearing continues to trouble the conscience of this Nation. The internment of Japanese Americans should serve as a powerful reminder that in defending this Nation and its ideals, we must do so as faithfully in the courtrooms and the public squares of this country as upon the battlefields.
It was by Executive Order 9066 issued by President Roosevelt on February 19, 1942 that American citizens were placed in internment camps, losing all freedom, all property but not their dignity or loyalty to the idea of the United States, a great number who served in the military of the United States. Many of these citizens remained in the camps until the end of World War II. The internment would not only have a profound impact on those forced into camps but on future generations.
In 1995 Karen Tei Yamashita went to Chicago where her Aunt Kay Yamashita had passed away. On her arrival she found packed clutter of boxes. She found two folders of interest. Kay’s wartime correspondence for Nisei Student Relocations and a second, personal correspondence. Gradually with her sister Jane Tomi an archive of their parent’s correspondence, photographs, audio tapes, homemade films, records and diaries were added. Letters to Memory is a history of the Yamashita and Tomi families, the internment camps taken from the archives blended with fiction in a fascinating historical account of this disgraceful act by the United States.
There are of course informants who reported back to the FBI on conversations, the idealistic Kay who once out of the camp to testify in a court case returns to the west coast and travels about to meetings against the internment, meeting with progressive religious leaders and such until she too returns to the camp. Yamashita engages with composite characters through a series of letters that are actually written to the reader exploring the internment, its meaning beyond just her family and the gross violation of civil rights these Americans had to endure.
Karen Tei Yamashita has written a chilling account, powerful in its presentation not only of the internment camps but of life that followed. Letters to Memory is a book that is a must read for those who have an interest in history but also for those who value civil rights and how quickly those rights can dissolve in the chaos of war.
You can find the book here: Letters to Memory

g emil reutter can be found at:




Recently Received Books

Review copies of the following books are available 

Updated: 4/3//18

APRIL 2018

Poetry: Hiraeth – Tercets From the Last Archipelago by Eileen Tabios. ( Knives Forks and Spoons Press)

Poetry: Murder Death Resurrection – A Poetry Generator by Eileen Tabios. (Dos Madres Press)

Poetry: Tanka, Vol. 1 by Eileen Tabios. ( Simulacrum Press)


March 2018

Poetry: White Storm by Gary Metras. (Presa Press)

Poetry: Her Heartsongs by Joan Colby. (Presa Press)

Poetry: Masterplan by Eric Greinke and Alison Stone. (Presa Press)

February 2018

Poetry: Two Towns Over by Darren C. Demaree. (Trio House Press- PDF File)

Essays: In the Shadow of King Saul: Essay on Silence and Song by Jerome Charyn (Bellevue Literary Press)

Novel: Mourning by Eduardo Halfon – Translated by Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn. (Bellevue Literary Press)

Novel: The Wreckage of Eden by Norman Lock. (Bellevue Literary Press)

Remaining From 2017

Poetry: Music for A Wedding by Lauren Clark.  (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Poetry: Talking Pillow by Angela Ball. (University of Pittsburgh Press) 

Poetry: Let’s All Die Happy by Erin Adair-Hodges. (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Poetry: Weather by Kelly Cherry (Rain Mountain Press)

Historical: Nationalism In Central Asia- A Biography of the Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan Boundary by Nick Megoran. (University of Pittsburgh Press) 



The King of White Collar Boxing


Review by Thaddeus Rutkowski


A friend of mine took me to see the only boxing event I’ve ever been to. This friend was a large man, a mixture of black and Asian, and he was a tough guy. He told me he was once attacked by a man with a knife, and to protect himself he simply took the knife away.
He and I had seats close to the ring in Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum, where we could see everything—including flying sweat and spit—clearly. But what was appealing was not the boxers’ punches or footwork, it was the sight of blood. Whenever a gash would open on a boxer’s face or blood would drip from a nose, a roar would go up from the audience. The only thing better than blood was a knockout blow—a quick, final stun.
Imagine being in the ring, trading punches, hitting and getting hit. That’s where David Lawrence takes us in this memoir, with vivid descriptions of breaking an opponent’s ribs or, conversely, being knocked senseless. Throughout much of the book, Lawrence lives the lifestyle of a “white-collar boxer”—a professional who trains, spars and occasionally fights in scheduled matches. Most mornings, Lawrence (an insurance-company owner) is driven in his Rolls-Royce to a Brooklyn boxing gym, where he can get some action before starting the day in his Manhattan office. The Rolls, the associated wealth, and an exhibitionistic personality bring Lawrence media coverage. He becomes a niche celebrity, featured in society and fitness magazines, as well as on television. He craves the attention and continues to fight, even though he “turns pro” at a relatively late age, in his mid-40s.
Here is his description of one of his fights, against one-time welterweight champion Buddy McGirt: “Midway through the (third and last) round he caught me with a pretty good hook to the head. It was just a short tight little punch, but I saw stars for a moment. I shook my head and smiled, just to let him know I was a little shaken and I’d appreciate it if he didn’t take my head off. The bell rang and we tapped gloves. I didn’t want it to end. Yet I couldn’t wait to get into the office and tell everyone I had just fought a world-class fighter.”
This description contains more than a touch of humor and displays Lawrence’s writerly skills. He holds a Ph.D. in English literature from City University of New York, has taught at Hunter College, and is a published poet, with a collection out from Four Way Books.
On another occasion, Lawrence is invited to the “celebrity fights,” held in Donald Trump’s casino in Atlantic City. Former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes is Lawrence’s dressing-room mate, and Trump himself drops by to say hello to Holmes. Lawrence describes Trump as follows: “He was a chubby, arrogant man with hair that lay over his head like a gull’s wing. … He gave me a nod as if to say I didn’t exist. He was the supreme egotist. Worse than me. I’d seen him speak at an insurance engagement. Mindless. He had some sort of idiot savant talent for building.”
This description is prescient, written several years before Trump’s presidential candidacy. It can be taken as an exaggeration or a joke, but Lawrence has a gift for stating truths through hyperbole.
A couple of sub-storylines run through the memoir. One concerns a federal investigation of Lawrence’s insurance company—the crime is money laundering, and the feds have a strong case. Another subplot involves Lawrence’s relationship with his wife and son. It’s not easy being a family man, a successful business owner and an obsessive boxer, and something has to give. (What suffers is not the boxing.)
Still, what comes across most strongly is the deep psychology of the sport (or martial art) of boxing. Once addicted, the boxer never really loses the craving or love for the activity. He can never get enough. He just gets a little older, maybe a little slower. Throughout the journey, I’m glad to say, he stays feisty as ever.

Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of the books Violent Outbursts, Haywire, Tetched and Roughhouse. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.