Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban is a beautiful little book is written with such brevity and precise wording that, on occasions, it’s hard to believe a writer could be so ruthless with their words. But, because Lois has been, it makes the story of Manami – a Japanese-American prisoner of war – all the more involving, easy to read and more powerful.
The story centres around little Manami, and her family, as they are forced by soldiers to leave their home on the American Bainbridge Island, just after Japan attacks Pearl Harbor. They are taken to a desert prison-village with thousands of other Japanese-Americans (most of whom are US citizens and wrongly imprisoned), but Manami’s little dog, Yujinn, is not allowed to go.
This is a tragic, horrible moment and, from this point, we are catapulted into Manami’s distraught emotions of leaving her dog behind and we experience the life of a prison camp through these emotions. Everyone else around Manami seems to just about cope with their new incarceration, but she does not. She does not talk anymore because of her shock. She only draws, communicating just through her paintings.
In this way, she gets by, makes a friendship with her young teacher and tries to remember what life was like before. With her dog. On the island where she used to live.
The story is based upon real events in these prison camps during WWII and, as I said, it is written with confidence and clarity. I did feel, however, the book’s one downside was that the threat from prison guards and crowded tensions in the barracks didn’t come across as well as they could have (making Manami’s life in camp seemingly a lot easier than I imagine it would have been). But, this is not to say the reader still doesn’t experience Manami’s fear, sorrow, love and anger. We do. Especially when it comes to the very moving ending.