Drawing on research and four days of interviewing former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, Andrea Warren has written a biography that is as absorbing as good historical fiction. The tale begins with Norman’s comfortable middle-class life in San Jose, Calif., and ends with his distinguished career in government. The book, however, focuses on his time in the Heart Mountain internment camp. Details paint a picture of spartan surroundings and frightening conditions made more tolerable by the creativity and painstaking effort of the Japanese Americans forced to live there during World War II. The book is liberally illustrated with photographs and drawings. The cover portrait of young Norman, smiling warmly between two rows of barbed wire, spotlights the contradiction in the title.
I counted seven references to Quakers, from the introduction of Norman’s beloved and influential teacher at the camp, Friend Dorothea Foucar, to the more extensive section “Waging Peace” in the addendum. Throughout the book, one forms the impression of Friends as stepping in with practical assistance. Norman’s brother Albert was among many students whom Quakers helped by finding colleges that would accept them, thus freeing them to leave the camps. When a family on Bainbridge Island, Wash., returned home after the war to find their farm vandalized, Friends worked to get the operation going again. This sense of Quakers’ continuing involvement in alleviating suffering might make this book particularly useful in Quaker schools and homes. Also potentially helpful in educational settings is the 13-page “Additional Information” section, including information on “Selecting the Right Terms” and providing historical information and contemporary perspectives. A list of multimedia recommendations and a bibliography add to the book’s usefulness for curriculum planning.
In an unusual coincidence, Norman and the young Alan Simpson were partnered as tentmates when a courageous leader brought his troop to Heart Mountain for a joint event with the interned Scouts. That friendship, rekindled in adulthood and described at length in the book, shows the importance of cooperation across ideological lines. I found the book fascinating to read and highly recommend it for readers ages ten and up.