Kamikaze Mozart [III]

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French / World War II

For readers following the thead on this novel – what I have for you are merely morsels, phrases parsed from the novel. But first I might explain why I am enjoying this text, in spite of its excessive interest in garment description.

Because the protagonist of the novel (Fumika) is a pianist pursuing a conservatory degree, this connects with me more fundamentally than other types of historical fiction. Although my primary occupation is that of historian, I am far from alienated from strong memories of undergraduate years and am still emotionally connected to them, and the people I knew then. Mutual struggles in undergrad are important!

Fumika, thus, restores me to a personal paradox. Is it possible for one of my age, background, and specialization to grasp anything more than the bare narrative of the internment of Japanese-Americans from 1942-1945?

Apart from a few mentions from Donald Borg, the crafty old man and paradigmatic 11th grade history teacher who taught us Truman, the Korean War, and brought in guest speakers, in high school I recall hearing virtually nothing about this. And why, with our emphasis on local and state history in wonderful Minnesota, and with our readngs of Oedipus and Dostoyevsky and Shakespeare and discussions of the glorious invasions of various nations under Bush I and Clinton’s first term, would it have been any different? The first true encounter I had, then, with internment narratives was via Anne Hess, a dynamic young professor of Asian-American literature at St. Olaf College. (At some point I hope to rehabilitate my course with her, that is, to reconstruct what it did for me; it certainly slammed back into the forefront of my consciousness, and has stayed close, since the moment I moved to Chinatown in Seattle). If one course can reveal its true value more than a decade after the grade was earned, I can maintain/tenir my vacillating, waxing and waning in great swings, faith in my “business” as a professor. This time it’s personal!

The Japanese internment narrative returned again to mind in graduate school, via a weatherbeaten copy of Ronald Takaki’s classic text Asian American experiences, Strangers from a Different Shore. I uncovered this text in a completely isolated barnyard bookstore in rural southeastern Ohio which had been recommended by the faux Baroque composer and vrai musicologist, the unlikely Irish-American, Nikkos Pappas. This text was sufficiently mesmirizing to me in graduate school that I schlepped it to China and back one humid summer. At Hiram College, I got in touch with some local Japanese-Americans (my Briefenwechsel with these folks was done the old fashioned way, on paper, so when the College zapped my correspondence into oblivion one traumatic September 1, I could cling to something).

And then, further, in Seattle, I have been reading the absolutely fascinating essays in the volue Beyond Internment and hope to assign a chapter on Japanese-American support to the Japanese war effort in the “lost years” of 1937-1941. That struggle in the Chinatowns and the Nihonmachi, particualrly in Seattle and San Francisco, is beyond fascinating, and its obscurity does need to be brought to light in spite of, or perhaps because of, the rifts it reveals in the falsely monolithic “Asian American” umbrella identity in the U.S.

And yet, the Japanese-American internment experience has remained, for me, much more abstract and less emotionally vested than, say, Japanese war crimes in China, a subject I have expended considerable energies on. (Whether or not those energies have been redeemed by actual achievements is for others to judge.) But the point remains: the trauma of Japanese-American internment, in spite of now being surrounded by its physical legacies, has remained for me on the cusp of understanding.

As I will expound upon later, Fumika and Kamikaze Mozart helps to personalize for me the reality of internment. Now:

Inspired by this text (and a couple of gens from the Quebecois ghetto of Sanguiny I was glad to get acquainted with yesterday), here are a few terms which turned up amid Chapter One, or in searching for terms from that chapter. Please accept my apologies for the incurteous lack of diacritical marks and the only occasional providing of the Chinese and/or pinyin! At least the former should be added when I emerge from China and am again confronted with an Occidental klavier:

*envolee – [noun] – flight of fancy, surge – 感情升华 – gan3qing2 sheng1hua2

*se tenir d’aplomb – to be steady – 保持坚定 – bao3chi2 jian1ding4

*ramassis [n.m.] – bunch, pack, jumble – dui1 [et foule aussi]

*un ramassis de petit voyons — a pack of vagabonds — 一堆小流氓

*emmerder [v.t.; argot] to bother one, to create a state of being pissed off

*tu m’emmerdes – you’re a pain — 你老烦我 – ni2lao3fan4wo3

*s’emmerde pas avec ca! – don’t waste your time bothering with that! – 别为此事烦恼

*emmurer [v.t.] to wall in, immure – 用墙围住 – yongqiang weizhu

*s’emmurer dans la silence – to retreat into silence

*maillot jaune – lit. “yellow undershirt”; e.g., the leader in Tour de France

*peleton [n.m.] ball; group of soliders

* etre en tete de peleton – to be at the front of the pack

*jupe [n.f.] – skirt – to “courir le jupon” is precisely “to chase skirts”

*serrer les machoirs – to clench one’s jaw

* foulard [n.m.] – scarf

* plurilingue – multilingual, polyglot

*foutu [adj., argot] – bloody, damned

* etre foutu de faire qqch – to be totally capable of doing something

* La vie prend la direction du bonheur – Life takes a direction toward good luck.

* Prenons pour example une sonate de Mozart – Take for example a sonata by Mozart.

* Ca leur donne du courage pour retourner au conservatoire – This gave her this courage to return to the conservatory.

The Author

Lecturer of Chinese history at University of Leeds, and Editor-in-Chief of SinoNK.com.

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