"THE FIRST JAPANESE AMERICAN TO PUBLISH A BOOK OF FICTION": EXCEEDINGLY SCARCE FIRST EDITION OF TOSHIO MORI'S YOKOHAMA, CALIFORNIA, 1949, ITS PUBLICATION DELAYED FOR YEARS WHILE HE WAS INCARCERATED IN THE WWII INTERNMENT OF JAPANESE AMERICANS
MORI, Toshio. Yokohama, California. With an introduction by William Saroyan. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton, 1949. Octavo, original orange cloth, original dust jacket.
First edition of this "trailblazing" collection of short prose by Mori, praised at the time of publication by William Saroyan as "one of the most important new writers in the country," its publication set before Mori was imprisoned for years with his family in an internment camp and postponed until 1949, this very elusive work hailed by poet Lawson Fusao Inada as "the first real Japanese American book," an exceptional copy in the original dust jacket.
In February 1942 FDR issued Executive Order 9066 authorizing the forced imprisonment of over "100,000 people of Japanese ancestry into incarceration camps." Toshio Mori, "an American citizen with Japanese parents," had a contract to publish Yokahama, California when he and his family were taken and sent to Tanforan Racetrack, a temporary site, before being moved to "Topaz Relocation Center in the Utah desert, where they were imprisoned for three years." Mori's writing had already won high praise from William Saroyan who, in this book's introduction, calls Mori "one of the most important new writers in the country." When Caxton, the small Idaho publisher, decided to postpone the book's release, Saroyan protested, declaring: "'Now, more than ever, Yokohama, California, should be published.' Mori, too, requested that the book appear as scheduled but ultimately accepted Caxton's decision… His manuscript lay dormant" until 1946, when Caxton contacted Mori, who added two new stories. The long-delayed publication of Yokohama, California in March 1949 made "Mori the first Japanese American to publish a book of fiction." Despite critical praise, however, sales of the small initial printing were poor and a "majority of the copies were eventually discarded… Yokohama, California remained out of print for 35 years until the University of Washington Press added the book to its Classics of Asian American Literature series… Decades after he was held at Topaz, Mori visited the site of another internment camp and noted that 'many people in my generation are reluctant to discuss those events, because they are ashamed they were suspected of disloyalty.' He, however, pushed back… saying, 'I feel a reminder is important to prevent this from happening again'… It wasn't until the next generation of Japanese Americans—the sansei, or third generation—came of age that Mori finally began receiving recognition for his trailblazing work" (Meregagila, Smithsonian magazine).
Inspired by Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, Mori wrote most of these stories "in the late 1930s and early 40s, though some were set even earlier." The two stories written after the war are "darker, autobiographically based stories. In Tomorrow is Coming, Children, written while Mori was imprisoned at Topaz, an elderly Issei grandmother recounts her life story to her grandchildren, her rough passage by boat, racist attacks on her home, and now enduring the pain of witnessing her native land at war with her adopted country. In Slant-Eyed American, Mori plumbed the contradictions and painful emotions that remain unspoken during the reunion of a Nisei soldier on furlough with his family during the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor." Poet Lawson Fusao Inada, in his introduction to the 1985 reprint, called this "'the first real Japanese American book,' and linked Mori's tales to the 'shibai tradition of folk drama and humorous skits,' many of which 'are the very source of wisdom and depth'" (Densho Encyclopedia, 6-9). First edition, first printing: with no statement of edition or printing on the copyright page; first printing dust jacket with publisher's printed "Selected Titles" per "trade list, June, 1948" on the verso.
Book fine; lightest edge-wear to splendid about-fine dust jacket.