Color of the Sea by John Hideyo Hamamura [in Christian Science Monitor]
A few cheesy, overwritten scenes aside, this is one stunning debut novel that will make you weak in the knees. Sam Hamada, U.S.-born but raised in Japan, arrives at age 9 in Hawai‘i in 1930 to join his father in grueling plantation life. He is apprenticed to an eccentric older Japanese man who teaches him not only martial arts, but to truly see his surroundings with open, unjudging eyes.
When Sam’s father dies, he travels to California to live with his mother’s stepbrother, where he is welcomed by a family he never knew he had – and where he falls desperately in love with his uncle’s best friend’s daughter. A prior promise to another woman – a youthful illicit dalliance that may have produced a child – keeps the honorable Sam from marrying his true love Keiko. When the Japanese Americans are rounded up and sent to internment camps after Pearl Harbor, Sam is drafted into the U.S. military for his language skills and his superb physical training. He becomes an invaluable asset to his homeland, even as he struggles to make peace with the duality of his heritage.
“In Celebration of Asian Pacific American Month: A Literary Survey,” The Bloomsbury Review, May/June 2006