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.
Praise for A Shrug of the Shoulders:
"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
"A love story, a war story set on the home front, a saga of families caught in the riptides of history, Elaine Cockrell’s moving novel captures how World War II was experienced by Anglo and Japanese Americans in the small towns and beet fields of eastern Oregon. Poignant and powerful, A Shrug of the Shoulders also reminds us that the war against fear, ignorance, and prejudice did not end in 1945, indeed, is never-ending."
--Alan E. Rose, author of As If Death Summoned
"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