Journey to Topaz Characters
by Yoshiko Uchida

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Journey to Topaz Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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Born in America, Yuki and Ken are U.S. citizens, but their parents, born in Japan, are not. This makes Mr. Sakane particularly suspect in the eyes of the war-time American authorities. Although he is an innocent businessperson, he is arrested and taken away from his family soon after the U.S. declares war on Japan. Yuki, Ken, and their mother must make the move from Berkeley to Tanforan and from Tanforan to Topaz.

Their non-Japanese neighbors are mostly sympathetic but powerless to help Yuki's family. Mrs. Jamieson, Yuki's best friend Mimi Nelson, and others can offer only sympathy and some help with food and other necessities. After they move, Yuki and her family find these good friends to be sources of distant support, receiving from them letters and supplies. Others merely exploit Yuki's family. One neighbor even digs up part of Mr. Sakane's garden because she wants some of his carefully cultivated flowers.

At the beginning of Journey to Topaz, Yuki, a bright, introspective eleven-year-old, is excited about the coming of Christmas and the holiday season. She has had little occasion for thinking about the outside world, even though her parents are from another country. During the novel, she discovers resources in herself that she never knew she had. The terrible experience of losing their homes and belongings embitters many of those taken to Topaz. Mr. Kurihara, Emiko's grandfather, for instance, yearns to leave America because of his mistreatment. But Yuki fights the urge toward bitterness and finds in herself the strength to help others survive the internment. She grows rapidly toward adulthood and develops the courage necessary to face not only the deaths of her pet dog and Mr. Kurihara but to encourage Emiko to fight against potentially deadly illness. Likable and engaging, Yuki tries to make the best of her unpleasant circumstances.

None of the other characters develop as thoroughly as Yuki, but her brother Ken also matures under the stress of internment. Forced to interrupt his college education and angered by the abuse of his family, he seems for a time to be growing bitter and hateful, but he eventually chooses responsibility over impotent rage. In so doing, Ken (short for Kenichi) helps both family and friends better endure their hardships.

Although Mimi is Yuki's best friend at the beginning of Journey to Topaz, Emiko, called Emi, becomes Yuki's most important friend in the novel. Emi's parents have died, and her grandparents, the Kuriharas, take care of her. She meets Yuki at Tanforan, and they quickly become friends, playing and exploring together. Emi is so full of life that her eventual collapse from tuberculosis is a shock. Like Yuki, she is resilient enough to fight her disease, helped by the true friendship of the rapidly maturing Yuki.

Uchida treats her main theme, injustice, in depth, blurring distinctions between good and evil characters. Part of what makes Journey to Topaz such a disturbing book is that few characters seem to want to harm the Japanese- Americans. The FBI agents, the soldiers in charge of relocating the internees, or those who observe the injustices heaped on their former neighbors may be insensitive and selfish at times, but Uchida portrays them as ordinary people trying to lead ordinary lives; they are simply doing their jobs. That their jobs involve destroying the lives of thousands of innocent Americans rarely disturbs them. Uchida's frightening depiction of complacent Americans shows that those who could have resisted the illegal internment of American citizens did not; the people who actually carry out the forced removal of the Japanese- Americans do so because they are told to. Uchida shows that a terrible injustice occurred in a free society with constitutionally guaranteed civil rights for all citizens because the citizens let it happen.

Uchida further enriches the theme of injustice by making the victims fully rounded characters with both good and bad traits. For instance, although Yuki...

(The entire section is 1,193 words.)