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Review of Dust of Eden

nagai_dust of edenDust of Eden
by Mariko Nagai
Intermediate, Middle School    Whitman    122 pp.
3/14    978-0-8075-1739-0    $16.99

In this verse novel, we first meet Mina Tagawa and her Seattle-based family just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Shortly after, her father is imprisoned, and the rest of the family — Mina, her mother, grandfather, and older brother Nick — are sent to the Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho, where they live in poor conditions for three years. Over the course of that time, Mina’s beloved grandfather dies, and Nick enlists and is sent to the European front. Interspersed throughout the main text are letters Mina writes to her father, to her best friend from home, and to Nick; Mina’s school assignments; and, most poignantly, honest letters about the war that Nick writes from Europe but can never send. The sheer volume of issues raised in the slim novel (racism, tensions between immigrant generations, the nature of American identity and patriotism, the liberation of Dachau, the Hiroshima bombing) can overwhelm the personal story, leaving readers somewhat disconnected from Mina. However, Nagai’s writing is spare and rhythmic — it’s real poetry.

From the May/June 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Sarah Ellis

Sarah Ellis is a Vancouver-based writer and critic, recently retired from the faculty of The Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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