Desert Exile Summary and Study Guide

Yoshiko Uchida

Desert Exile

  • 37-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 8 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with an MFA in Creative Writing
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Desert Exile Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 37-page guide for “Desert Exile” by Yoshiko Uchida includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 8 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Japanese-American Identity and Courage in Meager Conditions.

Plot Summary

Desert Exile tells the story of the author Yoshiko Uchida and the Uchida family’s experience as Japanese-Americans interned in concentration camps by the U.S. government after the Pearl Harbor attacks during World War II. The book follows a linear narrative arc that details the Uchidas’ experience, while Uchida often reflects discursively, using one point in her life as a vortex for connecting that moment to another memory and in turn creating a larger impression of Uchida’s life experience, enriched with the wisdom reflection provides.

Active members of their bustling community, the Uchidas live in Berkeley, California, in a nice home with a flourishing garden. Mr. Uchida first sailed to United States in 1906, and his wife sailed to California to meet her husband for the first time in 1916. Both parents grew up in traditional Japanese households. Mr. and Mrs. Uchida both studied at and worked their way through Doshisha University, Kyoto’s leading Christian school, and the parents instilled this fusion of traditional Japanese values with Christian values in their daughters, Yoshiko and Keiko. Mr. Uchida is a successful businessman with many friends and a leader at the Japanese Independent Congregation Church of Oakland, where Mrs. Uchida is president of the Women’s Society.

When Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, Uchida is preparing for winter exams. The attacks shock the community. The Uchidas think it must be the work of a fanatic. But this optimism is challenged when, on the same day of the attack, FBI agents arrest Mr. Uchida at their home, foreshadowing events to come for Japanese-Americans living in on the West Coast. Mr. Uchida remains optimistic, managing household affairs and teaching the family to endorse checks through letters. In the months following Pearl Harbor, mainstream public sentiment towards Japanese-Americans sours, prompting one of Uchida’s white friends to ask if Uchida knew the attack was coming. Media reports rumor Japanese-Americans may face evacuation and internment. By February of 1942,these reports are confirmed when President Roosevelt issues Executive Order 9066, authorizing war commanders to prescribe areas from which people must be not be allowed. This leads to April 21 headlines announcing Exclusion Order Number Nineteen, which uprooted Japanese-Americans from their homes, and sent the Uchidas to Tanforan, a horse track and stables in San Bruno, California, that served as a temporary internment center for Japanese-Americans.

In May 1942 the Uchidas arrive in Tanforan,where Mrs. Uchida and her daughters live in a horse stall that housed a single horse. Mr. Uchida arrives at the stall a week later. At Tanforan, the Japanese-Americans organize. They create softball leagues, talent shows, weekly musicals, and even launch a political election that is later shut down by the Army. A newspaper is published and Keiko organizes a nursery school, while Mr. Uchida teaches elementary school. Friends bring gifts from the outside. The Uchidas spend six months at Tanforan. Rumors sprout of a move inland.

As the Uchidas are bussed past San Francisco, she sees the Golden Gate Bridge untouched by war, and Uchida’s sense of home, and her Japanese-American identity is called into question. This tension becomes a major theme. At Utah’s Topaz Relocation Center, internees’ collective spirit suffers setbacks in the barren desert landscape. It’s difficult to grow anything in the dust-caked camp. Crime and assaults occur at night. Still, schools open, and a newspaper is published. But the winter of 1942 shuts down most camp activities; Uchida calls it a winter of despair.

If before that winter Uchida felt like a representative for all Japanese-Americans, and that it was her duty to remain interned, by spring she welcomes the assistance of a Japanese student association that helps thousands leave the camps to attend institutes of higher education. In the spring of 1943, the War Department announces plans to accept Japanese recruits for the first time, providing some Japanese-Americans with the chance to prove their loyalty to America. That spring,Yoshiko and Keiko leave the camp for college. Mr. and Mrs. Uchida are released shortly after. In the years that follow, the civil rights era shifts the culture around civic protest and the government makes reparations towards the Japanese-Americans. Desert Exile explores how that internment continues to impact Japanese-American identity, and recalls the unflagging spirit and courage of Japanese-Americans interned during World War II, in hopes, according to Uchida, that a group of citizens is never sent into desert exile again.

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Prologue