Book Review: They Called Us Enemy

When we talk about World War II, we highlight how the boys were “fighting the good fight” against Hitler and fascism, and how women stepped out of the kitchen and into vital roles for the war effort on the home front. But the American home front was also the place of one of America’s darker WWII moments, the internment of over 100,000 Japanese-Americans. While Executive Order 9066 was covered in various history classes I took, I never read any first hand accounts, until recently when I read They Called Us Enemy, a graphic novel written by Star Trek star, and overall legend, George Takei, in which he chronicles his childhood spent in multiple internment camps.

Cover of They Called Us Enemy. A small Japanese boy stands with others walking toward a fenced area with an armed military officer nearby. White text overlay reads "Just Finished..."

At age five, Takei, his parents, younger brother, and sister, were forced from their home in Los Angeles, and originally placed in the horse stalls at Santa Anita Racetrack before transferring to another internment camp. Takei is incredibly candid about the experience through the eyes of a child, recalling the horse stalls being “fun” but he also takes the time to reflect on how his parents looked upon the situation for the harsh and cruel reality it was. Over the next 200, black and white illustrated pages, Takei recalls the years that followed through Japanese surrender, highlighting both the moments of gleeful youth and difficult choices his parents and older inmates faced behind the barbed wire fences, and how the camps impacted his future and role as an activist later in life after the war.

Takei has a very poetic way in which he writes that makes this difficult story easy to read, in fact, I finished this in one sitting. It is also written in a way that I think is appropriate for all ages, and I think this book should be considered for required reading for middle or high school students studying World War II.

Comics and graphic novels have really become my favorite way to read lately. I’m a very visual and aesthetic person, so the way of telling a story in this format is just so much more appealing. I think they are a fun way to tell both fictional and true stories, and would love to read other historical accounts in such a format, so if you have any suggestions, comment below!

They Called Us Enemy is available on various book websites, including Powell’s, Bookshop.

Disclaimer: I was not approached by the author or publishers to do a review They Called Us Enemy. I wrote this review of my own accord.

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