The Train to Crystal City by Jan Jarboe Russell was the Gulf Coast Read for this year. Several counties on the Gulf Coast all read the same book, discussions and book club meetings are held about that book, and individuals participate in an “everyone has-read-that- book” atmosphere. Our Third Tuesday Book Club at the local library selected it as the “assignment” for October as well.
I did not think I wanted to read the book. In the past, I have always been a reader of novels, especially specializing in debut novels, but as a self-improvement project, I was glad to read this book.
It is the true story of “FDR’s secret prisoner exchange program and America’s only family (italics mine) internment camp during WWII.” It brings to light the hysteria of Americans against the Germans and Japanese living “among us” in those days, not necessarily a proud time in American history. It also describes the behind-the-scenes, political maneuvering of FDR as he used tactics presumably to rescue high-profile POWs in Germany and Japan.
The book tells, in anecdotal form, the stories of two teenage girls, one born to German parents, and one born to Japanese parents, both born here in the United States. It chronicles their eventual exchange and return to war devastated Germany and Japan, respectively, and the toll it had on their adult lives–all stemming from decisions made by their fathers, who had struggles of loyalties and allegiance to their native countries, Germany and Japan, in spite of their offsprings’ pleas to remain in the only home they had ever known, the US.
The Star Tribune, Minneapolis, describes the book as “…compelling, thought-provoking, and impossible to put down.” I found this a spot-on description as I read. It is a fine read for book clubs and individuals alike ,and history students will have an eye-opening peek into one of our fairly unknown periods of US history. Because the camp was located in Crystal City, Texas, its descriptions and information will be of special interest to Texans.
It took me a renewal of the book to finish, and I barely finished by book club meeting day, but I am glad I read The Train to Crystal City.