Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata

‘But, Bull, is it just because we’re Japanese?’ Twelve-year-old Sumiko is still not aware of the true consequence of her being Japanese when she asks her older brother Bull this question. The happy-go-lucky girl-next-door, Sumiko lives with her grandfather, uncle, and his family and her own little brother. Sumiko’s family is into farming flowers and she finds extreme solace in learning the tips and tricks of flower farming. Not only she helps in the farm post-school but also dreams of owning a flower shop of her own. . . . till the Pearl Harbor incident!

With the news of the bombings, starts coming news of Japanese arrests in America. Those born in America but of Japanese nationality seemed to be fleeing away from the land towards safety. Sumiko’s dreams are crushed under the weight of nationality and war and she is taken out of school, her books are burnt, her family photo with her late parents are burnt too, to remove the trace of her Japanese identity.

The Japanese community starts feeling like caged individuals after losing their identity. The fear of oppression by the Government is always on their minds which leads them to lead frightening sleepless nights. Japanese were being tracked and removed from the social milieu. It isn’t much later that her grandfather and uncle are arrested as well and Sumiko is only left with her elder cousins as the men of the house, to look after her and her little brother. With the man of the house gone, Sumiko could only look towards an unknown future. They started selling off their possessions including their much-loved horse, Baba at peanuts. In due course of time, they are shifted to Poston, a refugee camp in the desert of Arizona.

It is only in the camp where Sumiko’s real struggle starts- a struggle which is most internal than external. With no school and work, boredom starts creeping in her mind. The restlessness of getting news of her beloved grandfather and uncle also makes her uneasy at times. This affects her psyche and she starts reminiscing her life at the farm amongst flowers, family, and friends. Most days she sits daydreaming about a life that is light years away from her. She escapes reality in those moments to live a life elsewhere in peaceful bliss before the shards of reality strike her again.

Amidst all this, the Government provides no aid by further censoring the news. With no one getting the full picture of the war, the anxiety and anticipation grow harder and impatience finds its way, resulting in people taking drastic measures for themselves. News of proper facilities that the Government would be starting in the camps remain as an illusion for the longest time and what was permanent was a claustrophobic space suitable for half-a-person with an overhead shelter where families of four of five live cloistered along with their scaly companions like scorpions, cockroaches, and rats!

But Sumiko is a girl made of hard mettle. Even in dire circumstances as a flower grows, she starts showing off her skills as a gardener and starts helping their neighbor grow a small flower garden of his own. This becomes her world and she enjoys gardening and accumulating things that would help in a better yield in the harshest of the weather conditions. This gives her a purpose to look forward to each day and count the days until she can be living life as a free citizen.

In the wake of all these, Sumiko also makes a special friend- a young American Indian boy. Geographically the refugee camp is placed on (American) Indian Land which signifies the dispute between the American Indians and the unlawful usurpation of their native land by the Government. Boys from the nearby homes often enter the camps to bully the children out of the angst of having lost their lands. Sumiko’s friendship blossoms with one such American boy. Will such a friendship last forever? With Sumiko coming of age, will friendship mature into a permanent relation? It is interesting to see. . . . .

Kadohata tactfully shows the consequences of war and ethnic discrimination through the eyes of a child and takes the readers on a journey of friendship, betrayal, loss, illusionary promises, bullying, and of course mental health. The novel lays bare to the readers the other side of war where the casualty is not often physical but that of mental betrayal.

Also, one needs to talk about the beauty of the one-word name of the book- Weedflower. One of the most neglected and often mistaken flowers of great use is the weed flower, similarly, hundreds like Sumiko- Japanese American – were treated like weed flowers- useful but neglected, respectable but made to survive in the harshest conditions; who despite lack of opportunities or infrastructure keep their respect and beauty. Weedflower truly sums up the conditions of hundreds like Sumiko who bears the wrath of war for no direct fault of their own.

Weedflower plucks a chord in the hearts of its readers and even though it was first published in 2006, it still resonates with many, fourteen years later. I would clearly request you to grab your copy or read it online as an e-book or audiobook, it is surely worth it!

No. of Pages: 260

Publishers: Atheneum, Simon & Schuster

Available on: Amazon / Flipkart / Storytel

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