How would you feel if your country was attacked, suddenly, without warning? How would you feel if you were put under suspicion, regarded with contempt, even afraid for your life, because you were of the same nationality as the attackers? How would you feel if you were still viewed with prejudice even after you had volunteered to serve your country? If you think we're referring to 9/11, it only serves to reinforce the adage that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The attack in question here wasn't on the island of Manhattan, but on the island of Oahu Pearl Harbor, to be exact. Graham Salisbury's new book for teens, Eyes of the Emperor, deals with the effects of the attack on a Japanese-American teen, his efforts to prove his loyalty to his country and the strange and dangerous pathways prejudice can take us down in a time of war.
Eddy Okubo isn't like his dad; the old man builds boats for his customers, both Asian and haole (white), taking equal care with each. Pop Okubo wants his sons to attend university in Japan some day, but 16-year-old Eddy just wants to play baseball and be like his two buddies who have enlisted in the Army. He alters his birth certificate and does enlist, much to his father's consternation, but shortly after he finishes boot camp, America is attacked and Eddy's life changes drastically. He and other Asian soldiers are held at gunpoint, then put to work doing menial tasks. Even so, they manage to prove themselves loyal. Eddy's desire to serve his country is put to the test when he, along with the rest of his Japanese-American squad, are shipped out to the unlikeliest of places to serve as guinea pigs in the unlikeliest of experiments, and he'll need all of his courage and wits to survive.
Eyes of the Emperor may be a novel, and quite a good one at that, but the story is based on actual events. When you read it, you'll think to yourself, could this really have happened? Yes, it did, and Salisbury's meticulous research brings Eddy's story to life in a remarkably immediate way.