A Shrug of the Shoulders
by Elaine Cockrell
During World War II, xenophobia peaks as Japanese Americans are interned in Western US states. George Yano and his mother, sister, and brothers succumb to this fear: they are forced to abandon their farmland in Central Washington and must relocate to a Portland, Oregon assembly center. While the Yanos scrabble for normalcy—pickup baseball games for the boys, homey touches in the family's cramped private quarters—George becomes a recruiter of Japanese ancestry workers for Eastern Oregon's sugar beet fields. While George charts a course for the Yanos through financial ruin, racism, and hardship, Molly Mita does the same for her family. As Molly and George grow closer, so too do their families.
In a rich novel spanning Portland's assembly center, farming communities in Eastern Oregon, and internment camps like Minidoka in Idaho, A Shrug of the Shoulders renders the Yanos’ and Mitas’ lives with care, hope, and historical fidelity. Through multiple points of view and dozens of vivid settings, author Elaine Cockrell creates a mosaic of Japanese-American perseverance: one tiled with humor, frustration, despair, anger, and love.
More praise for A Shrug of the Shoulders:
"Elaine Cockrell has created a time, place and a people that are unforgettable. Almost cinematic in its narrative, these Japanese Americans forced into internment camps come alive. I cheered them, cried with their losses, regretted their battles and admired their resilience. Here is a new vision of Oregon showcasing a people’s capacity to grow, change and treat each other with kindness despite the trauma they lived through. A Shrug of the Shoulders is a singular perspective of Japanese Americans making a new world out of a shattered one. I didn’t want this story to end."
--Jane Kirkpatrick, award-winning author of The Healing of Natalie Curtis
"After exhaustive research, Elaine Cockrell takes readers into the thickets of American shame—the internment of Japanese-American citizens in World War II. Against this dark backdrop, Cockrell finds the shining stars of the human spirit that can't be dimmed by fear. The result is an uplifting story built of love and war, life and death, honor and ignorance. It is a story told through individuals and families of the Pacific Northwest who struggled while being exiles in their own country but refused to return such evil with evil."
--Bob Welch, author of Saving My Enemy: How Two WWII Soldiers Fought Against Each Other and Later Forged a Friendship That Saved Their Lives
"It speaks to the power of Cockrell’s writing that we as readers feel the anger, the humiliation, and the humanity of the main characters. We cringe at the casual prejudice and discrimination George and his family experience; we sigh with relief, grateful when they are treated with dignity, decency, and fairness on the Allen brothers’ farm."
--Alan Rose, Columbia River Reader
"I highly recommend A Shrug of the Shoulders. It belongs side by side with some of the best literature depicting the Japanese American experience of the Second World War, including Farewell to Manzanar and Snow Falling on Cedars. You won’t be able to read a reference to this era without your mind and your emotions evoking the characters in Ms. Cockrell’s story."
--Rick E. George, author of Sinister Refuge
"A Shrug of the Shoulders captures bits of Japanese-American life after Pearl Harbor
in an assembly center, internment camp, and Farm Security Administration labor camp
near Nyssa, Oregon. It highlights the unjust internment of Japanese Americans and
resident aliens, and explores not only their losses, but their resilience in the midst
of such terrible discrimination and hatred. Elaine Cockrell created such a realistic
story that I shed a few tears, as this tale is not unlike what my own family endured
during that time."
--Mike Iseri, resident of Ontario, Oregon
"A Shrug of the Shoulders paints a vivid picture of WWII’s internment of Japanese Americans in Eastern Oregon. Elaine Cockrell skillfully intertwines the lives of three families—two of Japanese ancestry—into a compelling story of the conflicting circumstances, emotions, viewpoints and prejudices of those touched by the internments and displacements. Cockrell’s research shines through, allowing the reader to feel the devastation, persistence and rebirth of the affected Japanese Americans and the resulting effect on the non-Japanese in the community."
--Virginia Pickett, author of A Long Road There
"Elaine Cockrell's novel A Shrug of the Shoulders does readers a service by rendering in dramatic terms the era of Japanese-American relocation that unfolded during World War II. I'm glad to see it in print, because it serves as a reminder of this period in our history and therefore increases the odds that we will not allow ourselves again, as a nation, to act on prejudice."
--David Guterson, PEN/Faulkner Award-winning author of Snow Falling on Cedars