As a scientist for several decades, technical writing was Nomura’s specialty. Over 12 years, after he retired and relocated to an artistic community, he wrote short stories about his life. Nomura writes well, even though he intentionally uses simple language: “…the book has a fog factor, which means that only an elementary grade level of education is required to understand it.” His writing style might seem ordinary, yet many hurdles in his life were extraordinary.
In the first section of stories entitled “Family”, Nomura reveals his genealogy, including some details about the generational traditions of Japan concerning marriage and property. His parents were poorly matched Japanese immigrants. His father, Kazuichi, considerably older than his mother, was a man very easy to hate because of his physical and emotional cruelty. He never denied himself any luxury, whether it was gambling, drinking or a luxury vacation, and often left his young family alone to struggle with the overwhelming physical and financial hardships of operating a vegetable farm.
Nomura’s mother, Mizuko, born into a significantly prominent Japanese lineage, lived a pampered lifestyle as a child. As a wife and mother in the United States, she endured decades of extremely difficult hardship and physical labor, even delivering all but one of her children by herself because Kazuichi would not allow anyone to help.
Other stories describe Nomura’s childhood escapades, many involving his brothers, and the effect of the Depression era on his family and community that led to bankruptcy, hunger, poverty and homelessness. Learning about the mistreatment, confinement and humiliation he and other Japanese-Americans experienced in Manzanar, located in the desolate California desert, for the sake of national security following the attack on Pearl Harbor is heart-wrenching. He includes factual information about the reasons behind the creation of these camps. Besides enduring losing his home and possessions when the government plucked his family out of their neighborhood, the discrimination and humiliation didn’t end there. After living for years in Manzanar, Nomura was drafted into the Army, where his talents and intelligence were ignored.
Nomura’s resilience and ability to seek any good that can come out of a horrific situation is astonishing. Sleeping on Potatoes, the title and a story about an exhausted Nomura trying to rest after a long day sorting potatoes in a dark cave, exemplifies ‘the lumpy bumpy ride [he] had in [his] formative years.” For someone who had lived on the east and west coast of the United States and many states in between by the time he was in his early twenties, Carl Nomura is a grounded person who relied on skills inherited from his mother, wit, desire and determination to achieve a passionate career, a stable marriage and loving family.
Many characters pepper his stories, including his wife and children, family, friends, colleagues, and pets. A common theme is that kindness nurtures love when given or received. His reflections about childhood mentors are memorable as their influence ignited a passion for math and science. Despite the discrimination and countless rejections he encountered trying to register for college, he persevered and ultimately earned a Ph.D. in physics, which led him to become a visionary leader in semiconductor development in a long, successful career at Honeywell in Minnesota.
Nomura confesses that he “tried to the best of his ability, to tell it like it was but [he] admits that, when the outcome was boring, [he] lied. And you’ll never find out where.” In his stories about career, marriage and retirement, his writing style deftly conveys the glint of humor one sees reflected in his eyes when looking at Nomura’s portrait on the book cover. His humor helps keep the reader interested as stories about his life becomes more “normal”.
With Nomura’s simplistic writing style, I would recommend portions of Sleeping on Potatoes for a young adult history curriculum. For a view from a different vantage, The Magic of Ordinary Days by Ann Howard Creel is an excellent
novel-length fiction that reveals the life of women residents in an internment camp.