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Under the Blood-Red Sun by Graham Salisbury

Under the Blood-Red Sun (original 1994; edition 2005)

by Graham Salisbury

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8482110,600 (3.77)5
Title:Under the Blood-Red Sun
Authors:Graham Salisbury
Info:Laurel Leaf (2005), Mass Market Paperback, 272 pages
Collections:obob '12

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Under the Blood-Red Sun by Graham Salisbury (1994)



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Under the Blood-Red Sun
by Graham Salisbury
Dell / Yearling, 1995
ISBN 0-440-41139-4
MMPB, viii, 248 p., ~55,000 words

Review date: August 2016

It can be difficult for a book to remain relevant as time passes, easily becoming dated after a couple decades have passed, but it's a little easier if the book is set in the past to begin with. Unless viewpoints shift drastically, a historical novel can remain relevant indefinitely. Graham Salisbury's award-winning 1994 novel Under the Blood-Red Sun, juvenile fiction about the attack on Pearl Harbor, is a good example. Twenty years after its appearance, with the 75th anniversary of the historic event less than half a year away and most of the event's survivors—indeed, many Americans who were even alive at the time—now dead, the tale is just as relevant as it was when it was published shortly after the 50th anniversary, when a great many more people could recall where they were on that fateful day. In recent decades, the United States have become more introspective, reconsidering from both a moral and a pragmatic standpoint their policy of internment and their treatment of Japanese-Americans in the aftermath of the attack—and as modern events unfold, we often find ourselves looking back to the past in general, and to this event and its aftermath in particular, comparing, contrasting, and examining for guidance.

Salisbury's novel treats these events fairly, with equal parts detachment and compassion, and almost never becomes overly didactic, and the author skillfully avoids the necessity for politicizing the novel by writing for young people about young people. The main character is 13-year-old Tomikazu Nakaji—known as Tomi to family and friends. The Hawai‘i-born son of Japanese immigrants, Tomi has known only an American way of life—or, rather, an Americanized one, since the islands at the time were a mere territorial possession, and a stewpot of cultures—Euro-American, Asian, Native Islander, and more—that had not yet simmered together to form the Hawai’i we know today. Although he has knowledge of his parents' homeland and a respect for it and for the Japanese-influenced life they lead, Tomi speaks his parents' native tongue about as well as his paternal grandfather, who lives with the family, speaks English—which is to say, not really all that well—and his friends are not Japanese, although he does interact with other Japanese and Japanese-American residents of the island, both child and adult.

It is in this fairly isolated cultural stewpot that the story takes place. That a world war is taking place, Tomi and all his friends know, but even though an American naval base exists nearby, it seems a distant thing and isn't in the forefront of their minds. Even during the opening scene, when Tomi gets angry at his grandfather for displaying a Japanese flag outside, it isn't because he thinks it will be seen as a treasonous action but because of the more real threat of being evicted from their shack by the bigoted owner for whom Tomi's mother works as a maid. Tomi's primary concerns—and those of his close friends—are school, the upcoming science project, family obligations, and playing baseball in their free time. Until that fateful Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. In the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attacks, bigotry against Japanese and Japanese-American residents of Hawai‘i increases and it becomes not merely unwise, but downright dangerous, to display any sort of pro-Japanese sentiment, even if—especially if it happens to be one's homeland. In this paranoid post-bombing milieu, Tomi's family has it rough: first Tomi's father is arrested and his small fishing boat sunk, then his grandfather is rounded up as well, and his mother is fired from her job. How Tomi and his family react in these troubled times form the main thrust of the story's plot.

But while the focus may be on these occurrences and the interactions between characters, these aren't what the story is about. What it's about is loyalty—to nations, to individuals, to ideals. Salisbury successfully raises many questions about loyalty without ever asking them straight out. Who deserves loyalty, and why? Can and should loyalty be divided? Can one remain loyal in the face of disappointment? Is loyalty to a country the same as loyalty to those who govern its affairs? At least as important as, and perhaps even more important than, the questions both pragmatic and moral of right and wrong surrounding the treatment of Japanese-Americans in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor bombing, these questions of loyalty stand out, pervading the narrative course of the novel. Combine this with dynamic, sympathetic characters, realistic interaction (including the way the characters speak), an easy-to-read style and driving plot, and historical authenticity, and Graham Salisbury's Under the Blood-Red Sun a book that is both enjoyable and educational not only for the target middle-grade demographic but also for older teens and even adults. It is no wonder to me that the book has remained in print these past twenty-odd years, with reprints and new editions being issued at least as recently as the 20th-anniversary edition of 2014, and that it has remained a popular text for classrooms and has continued to win awards. Nor is it a wonder that it has spawned three successful sequels that focus on other aspects of the Pacific theater of World War II, an entire hemisphere's worth of war that often seems to be overshadowed by what was happening in Europe at the time.

My only complaint about this book is that it lacked a certain complexity and depth—but such complexity and depth could probably only be targeted at older audiences and would probably also require a greater focus on the politics of the war and of the internment camps—politics that I was frankly happy to see Salisbury avoid. For middle-grade historical fiction, Under the Blood Red Sun is truly an excellent book and one that I will quite likely read over again.



3½ stars: It was very good. Technical, conventional, and other errors are rare or nonexistent, and the work stands out among others of its kind. A 3½-star work is nearing excellence. I am likely to add it to my permanent collection and recommend it to others. This rating may be more subjective than others, as it relies to a slightly greater extent on my tastes in genre and style. Creative writing is more likely to receive 3½ stars than conventional nonfiction. Equivalent to an 'A–', or very good, grade. ( )
  tokidokizenzen | Aug 1, 2016 |
At first, I did not think I would enjoy Under The Blood Red Sun, but once I began reading, my mind was changed. Stories about the WWII era and Pearl Harbor have always interested me because it is so hard to believe that our country underwent a time of such difficulty. I enjoyed the book's point-of-view because it was narrated by a young Japanese-American boy and his feelings about this time were projected. The plot of the story is well-developed and very realistic because the readers could understand the thoughts and feelings of Tomi, the main character and narrator. I also really enjoyed how the book included both Japanese and Hawaiian phrases, which gave the reader additional background knowledge about the time period and blend of cultures. Like most stories about the WWII era, this book had the ability to capture students' attention, especially students who are learning about this period in history.
  amanna2 | May 13, 2015 |
Under The Blood Red Sun was a book that I was not looking forward to reading, but eventually came to enjoy. It is a story about a Japanese-American boy who lives in a time where the Japanese were patronized and alienated. The point of view is different than your ordinary World War II book, as it is about the life of a Japanese-American boy's life being turned upside down, rather than American Soldiers or Nazi-Germany. The plot of the story is both believable and well-developed and had a clear message. The author clearly wanted readers to understand what it was like to be in this period of history and empathize with the main character, Tomi. The language in the book was interesting because it incorporated Hawaiian and Japanese phrases in the text, which gave the book a more authentic feel. Overall, this book could be an eye-opening novel for students and allow them to consider what it is like to be alienated and discriminated by others. ( )
  agates5 | May 4, 2015 |
  mrsforrest | Oct 15, 2014 |
Author Graham Salisbury chose to write his story from the perspective of a 13 year old Japanese-American boy in order to provide readers with a glimpse into the Japanese point-of-view. This story takes place in Hawaii in 1941. America is at the brink of war and we follow Tomi, A 13 year-old Japanese American boy in his daily life during the war. Tomi lives with his sister, mother, father and grandfather. Tomi’s grandfather is has strong patriotic sentiments towards his native country of Japan, waving the Japanese flag and speaking only in Japanese. Grandpa does speak his mind, which is something Tomi wishes he could express to the bully next door. Tomi has to deal with the racial tensions that Japanese-Americans dealt with in Hawaii. In this moving story, Tomi tragically loses a treasured friendship due to his ethnicity, while at the same time, he angers his grandfather because he denies being Japanese. Tomi feels that he is American through and through. Tomi does have something special in common with his other friends - a shared love of playing baseball. While Tomi and his friends are playing baseball, they hear the roaring of the Japanese plane engines as they head to bomb Pearl Harbor. This book provides students with an insight of the racial prejudice experienced by Japanese-Americans during the time of World War II. ( )
  Stsmurphy | Jun 7, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Graham Salisburyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sano, KazuCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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In Memory of
Henry Forester Graham, USN
Guy Fremont Salisbury, USN

And in Honor of
the Men of the 100th Infantry Battalion
and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team
of World War II,
United States Army.
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It all started the day Grandpa Joji decided to wash his precious flag of Japan and hang it out on the clothesline for the whole world to see.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553494872, Mass Market Paperback)

Tomi was born in Hawaii. His grandfather and parents were born in Japan, and came to America to escape poverty.

World War II seems far away from Tomi and his friends, who are too busy playing ball on their eighth-grade team, the Rats.

But then Pearl Harbor is attacked by the Japanese, and the United States declares war on Japan. Japanese men are rounded up, and Tomi’s father and grandfather are arrested. It’s a terrifying time to be Japanese in America. But one thing doesn’t change: the loyalty of Tomi’s buddies, the Rats.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:14 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Tomikazu Nakaji's biggest concerns are baseball, homework, and a local bully, until life with his Japanese family in Hawaii changes drastically after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

(summary from another edition)

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