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House of the Red Fish    by Graham Salisbury order for
House of the Red Fish
by Graham Salisbury
Order:  USA  Can
Wendy Lamb Books, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

House of the Red Fish is a sequel to Graham Salisbury's award-winning Under the Blood Red Sun. It's the continuing story of Tomi Nakaji, after the attack of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. A year has passed since Tomi's fisherman father and seventy-year old grandfather Joji were arrested and incarcerated in detention camps. Tomi, at thirteen, was left as caretaker of his family - his mother, and five-year old sister Kimi - in Na'uanu, Honolulu. Before the arrest, Grampa Joji hid everything Japanese including the butsudan (altar to grandmother), and the katuna (ancient Samurai sword).

Tomi tells us, 'When you've been inside a war - standing under falling bombs, breathing the smoke, smelling rubber burning, hearing who has died and seeing the damage all over your once peaceful island - you can't shake it off.' Tomi hopes to raise Papa's boat, the Taiyo Maru (Sun), sunk in Ala Wai Canal by the U.S. army the day after the attack. Papa suffered a leg wound, and his nineteen-year old fishing assistant Sanji died. The boat sits in eight feet of water ten feet from shore, along with other sampans, looking 'like busted tree stumps in a flood'. Keet Wilson, once a close friend, now heads a bullying group and will do anything to stop the fishboy's salvage. Tomi's mother is the Wilson's housekeeper with small living quarters on their estate - their loss would put Tomi's family out on the street. Tomi also faces the possibility of arrest. And residents are under martial law, with night curfews and blackouts.

Tomi's haole friend Billy Davis continues to stand by him no matter what, as well as Mose and Rico, who are called 'Japanese-loving traitors' by vigilantes. In a stockade on Kauai, Grampa Joji suffers a stroke and is admitted to the Queens Hospital, where Billy's mom works. The Davis's help arrange for Grampa to return to the family home after his release from hospital. About Keet, Tomi muses, 'Funny to think how he was once an okay guy. What happened to him? That was the mystery. What changed him, really?' But even amongst his tribulations, Tomi appreciates the beauty of his homeland: 'The harbor at Kewalo Basin was hot and quiet. The sun, now heading out to sea, poured silver into the light green water. Two old men sat out on the rocks at the mouth of the harbor with fishing poles, looking as sleepy as the boats lounging motionless at their moorings ... 'Man, I miss going out on the boat with my dad'.'

Graham Salisbury's ancestors hail from the Hawaiian Islands since the 1800's, and he grew up in Oahu and Hawaii. His series touches on a painful subject, written with emotion and finesse. He offers a lesson in abiding friendship, and on the consequences of the formation of a destructive bully group, with the impetus of bigoted parents behind it. The story is enriched by spunky Grampa Joji's use of his pidgin Confonnit, and by Tomi's love for his grandfather, whom he calls 'old cockaroach'. Fortunately, the ending indicates that there will be a third book about the determined Tomi and his family.

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