The Block Manager
Updated: Sep 22, 2022
By Judy Mungle
Long forgotten American chapter brilliantly comes to life
The story of the Japanese US citizen internment into concentration camps sits on the periphery of most history lessons about the United States experience in WWII. The idea that the President Roosevelt would have authorized that US citizens be placed in concentration camps—especially during the shadow of the Holocaust—seems out of sync with American ideals of all people being equal under the law. But in The Block Manager, a true story of one woman’s incarceration and her experiences following the war, this forgotten American chapter comes to life.
Author Judy Mundle takes on the voice of Janet, the American-born daughter of Japanese immigrants, whose fluency in both Japanese and English is valued by US authorities. She’s given the job of Block Manager, or overseer, over barracks in her first internment camp. Ultimately Janet marries, has a baby and is moved into two other camps before the war ends. Her Japanese-born husband is forced to move back to Japan and to join him she must renounce her US citizenship.
Through her eyes we see the devastation caused by the Hiroshima atomic bomb and the little-reported aftermath of the war on the Japanese people. Janet’s unique position of being both American and Japanese adds waves of depth to her story as she struggles to reconcile ideas of American freedom with traditional Japanese social order. Prejudice, suspicion, faith, dignity, family all jostle in her surprising life.