They Called Us Enemy

They Called Us Enemy
Co-Authors / Illustrators
Age Range
Release Date
July 16, 2019
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A stunning graphic memoir recounting actor/author/activist George Takei's childhood imprisoned within American concentration camps during World War II. Experience the forces that shaped an American icon -- and America itself -- in this gripping tale of courage, country, loyalty, and love.

George Takei has captured hearts and minds worldwide with his captivating stage presence and outspoken commitment to equal rights. But long before he braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father's -- and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten "relocation centers," hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.

They Called Us Enemy is Takei's firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother's hard choices, his father's faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

What does it mean to be American? Who gets to decide? When the world is against you, what can one person do? To answer these questions, George Takei joins co-writers Justin Eisinger & Steven Scott and artist Harmony Becker for the journey of a lifetime.

Editor review

1 review
A Historical Memoir
Overall rating
Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
This graphic novel is an early life personal account of a major historical event (the internment of Japanese Americans durring WW2), and a present-day retrospective analysis. Format-wise it jumps back and forth, giving it a sense that's part memoir and part TED Talk. George is just 5 years old when his family is forced from their California home--forfeiting their property and business--and detained within an Arkansas camp. We are shown these experiences through age-tinted perception, which makes George a bit of an unreliable narrator in the most poignant of ways.

"Memory is a wily keeper of the past... Usually dependable, But at times deceptive. Childhood memories are especially slippery. Sweet and so full of joy, they can often be a misrendering of the truth."

His parents frame the mandatory relocation as a vacation, and so he and his brother perceive themselves on a sort of adventure. But his adult mind dwells on all the details his younger self couldn't have grasped at the time--nor even in the first decade or so following their four years of imprisonment. The fear and selfless sacrifice of his parents, the undignified accommodations, and the frustratingly impossible position Japanese-Americans (of all generations) were put in by the U.S. government in regards to their "loyalty."

Takai today recognizes and honors the bravery of the men who chose to fight for the U.S., despite their baseless incarceration. And he offers the same recognition to those who refused to enlist out of protest... as well as those who gave up their citizenship in an effort to free themselves from the camps (his mother being among these.)

It's remarkable, the nuances embedded in this story. That Takei's father could still believe that American democracy was "the best in the world", in spite of all the abuses toward his family. That Takei himself can still acknowledge the good that F.D. Roosevelt did for the country in pulling it out of the depression, despite him being responsible for the racist imprisonment and exploitation of 120,000 American citizens. But at the same time... this broader consideration seems stripped from the final few pages--as complex present-day issues of immigration (both legal and illegal) are reduced to a sort of ham-fisted apples-to-apples comparison.

Note: It was interesting to see the mention of a Quaker missionary faithfully bringing in supplies to the camps, despite being physically attacked for it. You rarely hear about them nowadays, but the Quakers were so integral to both abolitionism and women's suffrage in the 19th century. It was good to see them cropping up to oppose injustice in the middle of the 20th century as well.

Visually, the art style is effective. Although, I wish the color scheme on the cover could have carried through more of the book.
Structure-wise, the story's potency is a bit muddled. The cutting back and forth--from the internment account to young, budding actor George, to his present-day self--made for a disjointed telling. And those jumps in time period seemed to disrupt the tension of the story's focal-point, which (to some readers) may diminish the overall emotional impact.

Recommended for ages 13 and up. And that age suggestion has nothing to do with content--it's purely a matter of the complexity of numerous concepts, and a desire to see them both comprehended and examined by readers.
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