Tallgrass is a novel delving into the complex relationship between a midwestern town and a Japanese internment camp during World War II. My feelings toward the book are mixed, but I liked it a lot better in hindsight after discussing it with a book club. Isn’t it interesting how some books are better read with a group?
I thought the author did a great job of exploring how the midwest experienced the war–particularly bringing in elements like the way that having lived through the Depression and the Dust Bowl impacted people and influenced their attitudes and responses. The main characters realistically explored their feelings on race and patriotism, and gave a nuanced look at the role of community in shaping ideas and responding to challenges.
However, I do think the book suffered somewhat from the author’s decision to incorporate some mystery genre elements. I didn’t mind the murder mystery aspect, or even the overuse of parallel experiences in different storylines (and I loved that the author had one peripheral character make a funny aside about how odd it is to find so many examples in one small town), but I felt like the genre tropes were inconsistently applied, especially at the end, which made the whole thing feel too neatly wrapped up and rushed at the end. Actually, the whole ending was pretty bad, in my view, and the other people in my book club agreed.
If you’re interested in World War II history, especially in the subject of the internment of Japanese-Americans, this book would probably provide helpful insights, if you can read it with half an eye closed to its weaknesses and if you’re prepared to have it end with a thud. That probably sounds like a terrible advertisement, but I find that a lot of books have merit even if they aren’t stellar across the board. I would still recommend the book, and issue the caveats only for the benefit of those whose reading time is limited or whose interest in the topic is not deep enough to warrant giving up a book spot.
Have you read any other novels on the Japanese-American internment? Someone in my book club mentioned a couple of other books, but I’ve already forgotten their titles!
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