Allen Say's Grandfather's Journey
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Two generations of Japanese immigrants
Viewing the cover image of Allen Say's grandfather as a young man, crossing a wind-blown Pacific Ocean, it's hard not to see a child.
The Western overcoat is over-sized, covering an oversized Western suit. The young man holds tight to his derby hat to keep it from blowing away.
Author-illustrator Say tells the story of his grandfather who came to America in what looks to be about the turn of the 20th century, exploring it, experiencing it, loving it and making it home.
He returns to the Japanese village of his upbringing only to take a wife and bring her back to San Francisco, where they have a daughter. But, over time, he starts to miss Japan.
Once his daughter attains adulthood, he returns with her and his wife to Japan, where he reconnects with his past. They make a home in an unnamed Japanese city - "the village was not a place for a daughter from San Francisco" - and the daughter meets a husband.
Soon after, the author is born.
Still, the grandfather is now missing America, and starts planning to return, but war intercedes, and their home is destroyed. Aged now, the grandfather (and grandmother) return to the village of their birth.
The author's own wanderlust, stoked by his grandfather's stories of California, grows irresistible, and, nearly grown, he goes himself to visit California...and stays on.
This is a quiet, dignified story, told and illustrated with more objectivity than commentary, making what emotion is implied or stated more striking.
In the end, we are left with a simple telling of what it is to be an immigrant:
The moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other.
I think I know my grandfather now. I miss him very much.
Grandfather's Journey is a quiet accounting of what is gained by moving from one's home to a strange land...and what is lost.
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