Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Thomas Nelson -- The Final Years
Washington was most thankful for Nelson’s contributions.  In his general orders of October 20 the commanding general wrote: “The general would be guilty of the highest ingratitude if he forgot to return his sincere acknowledgments to his excellency governor Nelson, for the succours which he received from him and the militia under his command, to whose activity, emulation, and bravery the highest praises are due.  The magnitude of the acquisition will be ample compensation for the difficulties and dangers which they met with so much firmness and patriotism” (Sanderson 69).
Nelson thought now that the war would soon end.  He could feel happy that he had played a necessary and important role in the battle that, he believed, had broken the back of the British.  Certain problems, nevertheless, abounded.  “The healthy British prisoners had to be moved to prison camps, the sick and wounded cared for, and all had to be fed.  Washington urged that the Virginia military establishment be kept on a firm footing, while the men themselves tended to go home.  The French, remaining in the state, created something of a problem, particularly in Yorktown, where they ousted some people from their homes to use them for winter quarters.  … Accounts had to be settled between the French and the state and between the state and the Continental Congress.  Large numbers of cattle which had been collected had to be disposed of and other provisions stored.  Still civil strife continued in the lower Tidewater.  These and many other problems weighed heavily on the governor” (Evans 120-121).
On November 20, 1781, Nelson handed to the speaker of the House of Delegates his letter of resignation.  “The very low state of health to which I am reduced, and from which I have little expectation of soon recovering, makes it my duty to resign the government, that the state may not suffer for want of an executive” (Sanderson 70).  His resignation was accepted.  On November 30 the Assembly elected Benjamin Harrison governor.  Nelson did not have many years left to live, and he probably knew it.  Illness had plagued him throughout the war.  The heavy responsibility he had carried as governor had had a final telling effect.  Nelson wished to retire from public life.  Difficulties, however, followed him.
Inhabitants from the County of Prince William sent to the legislature a petition and remonstrance protesting that Nelson had disregarded their “necessity and patriotic restraints” by authorizing “impress in a most unrestrained and arbitrary manner without the consent of the executive council.”  They also “condemned him for not allowing the French to purchase provisions on the open market, and for laying an embargo on the export of certain commodities” (Evans 121).  Nelson asked for an opportunity to defend himself.  His wish was granted and he forwarded to the legislature a letter with his reasons “for adopting the measures which have given so much offense.”  The legislature investigated the charges, found that he had been forced to impress without the council’s consent due to “peculiar circumstances” (Sanderson 70-72), and passed an act that legalized his activities.  Nelson was officially indemnified and exonerated from all blame.
He had assumed the office of governor at a very critical time.  Virginia had been without a governor for three weeks; large enemy forces had been moving for six months, virtually at will, within her borders; and the state’s resources had been strained for a much longer period of time as a result of British activity in the Carolinas.  At his disposal were powers greater than those of any governor preceding him, and, except for a few days in June, he did not have the restraining influence of a legislature to deal with.  A tremendous responsibility, which Nelson understood and accepted, thus rested with the executive.  Although a more politically minded person would have shown caution, he used the power to its fullest extent.  When it appeared necessary, in the six weeks before Yorktown, Nelson exceeded his authority.  He made the decision to do so without regard to the effect it would have on his own career” (Evans 122-123).
Nelson’s home in York had been destroyed.  Some of his landed estates had been and might be sold.  He moved temporarily to a little estate called Offley, in Hanover County.  He had built it during the war as a place of protection for his family.  It was not a very healthful area in which to live.  His son Robert used to sing these two lines about the place:
            “Send comfort down from thy right hand
            To cheer us in this barren land.”
R. C. M. Page wrote that the house was probably gone, but the Offley pond, “that well-known source of chills and fever for the whole neighborhood, yet stands” (Page 151)
The young aide-de-camp Baron Von Closen, accompanying General Rochambeau, visiting the Offley estate in January 1782, gives us an excellent description of Nelson, his wife, and the property.
“This worthy man gave us the most cordial reception possible; we were served an excellent supper, and immediately afterwards retired to our rooms … After an excellent lunch, we inspected the farm and the approaches to the house, which are rather pretty; there are two others near-by and many negro cabins.  General Nelson was one of the richest Personages in Virginia; he had 700 negroes before the war.  He has now only 80 to 100.
“He is a man of the greatest integrity, is devoted to the cause of his compatriots, and serves his fatherland with the zeal and disinterestedness characteristic of an upright man, even at the cost of his fortune, which had been considerably reduced.
“…  His family is one of the happiest with which I am acquainted; his wife, who is no longer young, has 13 living children and is respected for the upbringing that she gives them.  She is an excellent and thrifty housekeeper and provided very good meals for us” (Von Closen 216, 217).
Historian Emory G. Evans disagrees with assertions made by 19th and 20th Century historians that Nelson was reduced to poverty by the time of his death (1789).  He believes that the story of a very wealthy man losing his entire fortune in the valiant service of his country was too good a story to reduce to objective boundaries.  This myth lives today in respected historical publications.  “… the sketch of Nelson in the Dictionary of American Biography tells how he ‘sacrificed his private means to pay his public debts, accumulated for Virginia’s loan of 1780 and in fitting out and provisioning  troops.  This course … left him a poor man’” (Evans 139).  Nelson indeed had financial difficulties before his death, but he also was wealthy.
“… business had been virtually at a standstill since the outbreak of the war, and even at that time he had been deeply in debt.  In the meantime his family had continued to grow, placing further demands on his straitened finances—a situation not improved by his having pledged his own security for significant sums during the loan drives of 1780.  Some of his creditors were already pressing him for payments, and as early as August 1782 he was advertising the sale of twenty to thirty Virginia-born Negroes.  He sold more slaves in December and in January, and also delivered 184,000 pounds of tobacco to Benjamin Harrison and Company and David Ross and Company in payment of bonded debts” (Evans 126).
But Nelson “was far from destitute.  Substantial sums of money were owed him, and he still ranked among the ten largest property owners in Virginia.  Nelson possessed well over twenty thousand acres spread through five counties.  … In addition he owned approximately four hundred slaves, five hundred head of cattle and one hundred horses and mules as well as sheep and hogs.  … These were immense holdings, even for that time, but only the end of the war and the return of more normal business conditions could tell what he would be able to do with them” (Evans 126).
Nelson was not entirely inactive publicly following his resignation as governor.  He was returned to the York County Court in the fall of 1782.  In November he assumed his seat in the House of Delegates.  Not until May of 1783 did he begin to take on the duties of his office.  Peace with Great Britain was declared in the autumn of 1783.  Nelson spent a good amount of his time seeing to the repair of his house in Williamsburg, his house in Yorktown still in a state of disrepair.  After two weeks of service in the fall session of the Assembly, he fell ill. 
“For a week in early December he was under the intensive care of Williamsburg physician John M. Galt.  Dr. Galt prescribed a variety of medicines used at that time for the treatment of coughs and the removal of phlegm associated with ‘humoral asthmas.’  He also applied several plasters to Nelson’s chest, including one that used cantharides (dried blister beetles) as the main specific.  Nelson recovered from this attack, in spite of Dr. Galt’s medications, and over a year passed before this particular ailment again plagued him.  But his generally poor health seems to have convinced him that he should retire from public life, even though some of his friends were entreating him not to do so” (Evans 128).
Visitors came frequently to Williamsburg and Yorktown to visit him.  No man was more welcome than the Marquis de Lafayette in the fall of 1784.  His small house was crowded with many of the town’s notables, including James Madison.  Nelson “reportedly told his guests that they could blame their being over-crowded on the skill of the French artillery at the siege of Yorktown” (Evans 129). 
Pleased as he was with the respect accorded him by distinguished visitors, his financial difficulties increasingly unsettled him.  If he could only collect the money owed him, both by private individuals and the public!  “In June 1784 he petitioned the House of Delegates first to pay 91 pounds owed him for board while commander of the state militia, and, more important, to repay the loans he had obtained by pledging his own security during the loan drive of February 1780” (Evans 129).  Legislation was taken up to effect that, but Nelson was never reimbursed.  Perhaps this was because Nelson could not present clear documentation.  Perhaps crucial documentation had been lost.  Perhaps the House, due to uncertain documentation, “did not want to leave itself open to a host of claims that might be less just than Nelson’s” (Evans 131).
The failure to be reimbursed was a crushing blow.  He continued to attempt to clear his debts.  “… by August of 1786 he was advertising the sale of land in Hanover and Gloucester counties.  He also announced that he would have to sell about eighty of his Negroes unless persons indebted to him would ‘discharge their bonds, notes, and open accounts.’ Court action was promised against those who did not provide for payment.  … Nelson’s creditors were also taking him to court, and between the end of the war and his death in 1789 judgments against him amounted to” (Evans 132, 133) six thousand pounds. 
Nelson wrote to Edmund Berkeley in 1787: I know by my own feelings that nothing can be more disagreeable than to be dunn’d.  I am however unfortunately reduc’d to the necessity of dunning, or parting with more property than I can spare from my numerous family” (Evans 133). 
In the spring of 1786 Nelson’s younger brother Nathaniel, a York delegate to the Virginia House of Delegates, died.  Nelson decided to replace him.  The following year the Articles of Confederation Congress called for a convention composed of representatives of each state to meet in Philadelphia in May 1787 to consider revising the Articles of Confederation.  The Virginia legislature selected seven prominent Virginians.  When Patrick Henry declined to serve – smelling “a rat” – Governor Edmund Randolph appointed Nelson to replace him.  The state of his business affairs and his poor health forced Nelson to decline. 
In Philadelphia a new frame of government was being drafted.  “George Washington sent Nelson a copy of the completed document immediately on his return to Virginia.  In a covering letter he told his friend that the Constitution was the ‘best that could be obtained at this time….’  The ‘political concerns of this country,’ he continued, are ‘suspended by a thread,’ and he was convinced that if the convention had not agreed on a plan ‘anarchy would soon have ensured….’Under these circumstances Washington thought ‘the adoption of it … desirable.’  Nelson, and a number of other Virginias, did not agree” (Evans 135-136). 
Three parties had formed in Virginia: “those who would ratify without amendments; those who did not ‘object to the substance of the Government’ but favored ‘a few additional guards in favor of the Rights of the States and the people; and those who opposed the ‘essence of the System’ and preferred ‘an adherence to the principle of the existing Confederation.’  In light of Nelson’s career to this point it is reasonable to assume that he was one of the middle group” (Evans 136). 
In early June 1788 Nelson was very ill.  From then “his condition grew progressively worse.  Not only did recurrent attacks of what was probably asthma plague him, his whole physical condition seems to have deteriorated.  Furthermore, the serious state of his business affairs contributed to his depression.”  He was nearly thirteen thousand pounds in debt.  “The fear that he would not be able to straighten out his affairs, and therefore be unable to provide for his numerous family, weighed on Nelson’s mind.  Late in December his condition had become so bad that he took the step of drawing up his last will and testament.  … The will was signed on December 26.  Less than two weeks later, on January 4, 1789, Thomas Nelson, fifty years of age, died at his plantation Montclair in Hanover County” (Evans 138).
Newspapers carrying accounts of his death were edged in black.  “One stated that as ‘a citizen there is but one to whom his country [Virginia] is more indebted’” (Evans 138).  According to ancestor R. C. M. Page, Nelson’s widow would live to be 80, being blind her last 17 years.  She would leave twenty dollars to her minister and freedom to her only servant.
Works cited:
Evans, Emory G.  Thomas Nelson of Yorktown: Revolutionary Virginian.  Williamsburg, Virginia: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1975.  Print. 
Page, R. C. M.  Genealogy of the Page Family in Virginia.  New York: Jenkins & Thomas, 1883.  Print.
Sanderson, John.  Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence
Second Edition.  Philadelphia: William Brown and Charles Peters, 1828.  V.  Print.
William and Mary Quarterly Historical Magazine.  “The Journal of Baron Von Closen.” Series 3.  X.  1953.  Print.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- Bridging the Gaps
Determining the plot direction of this novel is challenging.  Almost all of what I am writing is fiction, even though the setting and several of the characters and all of the villages I mention are historical.  Roanoke, Dasemunkepeuc, Croatoan, Pomeiooc, Aquascogooc, and Secotan did exist.  Wingina, Granganimeo, and Wanchese were actual Algonquians.  As I have previously written, what we know about these villages and people are scant because the inhabitants left no information about themselves.  Only a few Englishmen wrote about them; what they provided is limited.
Therefore, I must start my novel from a specific point in time and bridge two gaps to reach two actual events to end its story.  I coincide Alsoomse and Wanchese’s activities in the fall of 1583 with the death of would-be colonizer Humphrey Gilbert drowned at sea while returning to England from Newfoundland and Sable Island..  The first historical event that I must reach is Wingina’s wounding presumably by Pomouiks (see map -- but possibly by weroance Piemacum’s Pomeioocs in the spring of 1584.  The second historical event is the arrival of Captains Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe, the contact they and their sailors make with the Algonquian inhabitants, and their departure to England with two natives, Wanchese and Manteo.  Between these two historical events and before the first one --unlike my novel about the beginning of the Revolutionary War – I must invent mostly all of my characters and what they do.
I am presently somewhere in the middle of the gap between the novel’s beginning and the first historical event.  My narrative focus throughout will be on the brother and sister characters.  Because character revelation, development, and conflict are essential to fast-paced fiction, I must place both Alsoomse and Wanchese in extraordinary (but plausible) situations.
Wanchese goes on a trading mission with his cousin Nootau and two of Wingina’s principal men, Osacan and Andacon.  Their destination is the village Chowanoc, along the Chowan River.  (See map)  Wingina suspects that the upstart Pomeiooc weroance Piemacum, rather than turning over his trading goods to Wingina, has already traded with the mighty Chowanoc confederation mamanatowick Menatonon.  Wingina has sent his four men to confirm this as well as to trade for chunks of quartz and stone to be made into axes, knives, and arrow heads.  Stopping to spend a night on land between two Weapemeoc villages located along the northern shore of Albemarle Sound, they come upon several Weapemeoc hunters.  Wanchese befriends an outcast of the hunter’s group.  He spends the night with the outcast while his three companions sleep in the other hunters’ temporary huts.  The next morning one of the hunters exhibits his scorn for the outcast.  In character, Wanchese retaliates.
“We had excellent deer stew, Wanchese.” Osacan extended his right arm. “I would have brought you some but I forgot.”
The hunter whom Osacan had apparently befriended, stooped.  He picked up from the fire pit the end of a branch not incinerated. “We allow him to live here,” he said to the wood, “because he builds canoes. Except for that, he is worthless.” He stared at Etchemin, who was watching them. “Isn’t that right, Useless?!” He hurled the piece of wood. Etchemin stepped to his left. The wood struck the top of the dwelling.
The hunter faced Osacan and Andacon. “He is useless and he is a coward! Watch!” The man strode toward Etchemin, who waited. “Show them I am right!” The hunter reached him. “Tell them you are a coward!”
Etchemin stared past him stiffly.  The hunter slapped him, the sound of palm against cheek distinct.
Etchemin regained his balance, resumed his stance.
“Say it! Say it or defend yourself! No? Then here!” The hunter slapped Ecthemin again.
“That is not necessary!” Andacon declared.
“Let him be!” Osacan responded.
“You see?” The hunter, facing them, grinned. “This is what we live with!”
Andacon motioned toward the river. “We have nothing here we must do. Down to the canoe,” he ordered. He stepped off. Osacan; Nootau, ever silent, looking tense; and Wanchese, red-faced, followed.
“Why don’t you take him with you?!” the hunter shouted. “He can build you canoes!  If you need to warm your hands, slap him!” They heard the third slap.
Wanchese stopped.  He turned, started up the incline.
“Wanchese!” Osacan shouted.
Wanchese heard Anacon’s stern voice. “No!”
He was twenty feet away from the hunter, then ten, then standing in front of him.  
“Ah, the coward has made a friend!” the hunter mocked.
Wanchese grabbed the hunter’s turkey skull feather, pulled it out of its groove, held it in front of the hunter’s astonished face, and broke it in half.  He dropped the two pieces. Locking his eyes on the brave’s face, he waited.
A deep red colored the man’s face. He swore. Wanchese saw the man’s hands, of a sudden, move upward.  Wanchese kneed the hunter’s genitals. He heard sound, distress. The hunter was bent over. Wanchese kneed his forehead. He went down. It was not enough. Wanchese pinned the hunter’s head to the sandy soil with his right foot.
He was breathing fiercely through his nose. He felt the hunter squirming under his foot. He applied greater pressure. The man emitted a plaintive sound.
He was aware suddenly that the others were close by. The thought that he might be attacked occurred to him. If so, he would bring each of them down! “You!” he shouted at the hunter immobilized under his foot. “I will let you up! If you choose to fight, I will kill you!” Three more fierce breaths and he removed his foot.
This incident causes the group’s leader, Andacon, to begin to doubt Wanchese’s judgment.  It marks the beginning of a riff between Wanchese and Andacon that I have developed through fifteen chapters and will continue to develop. 
I remove Alsoomse from Roanoke soon after Wanchese’s departure for Chowanoc.  Here is the scene that explains why.
Granganimeo’s wife Hurit, standing twenty feet away in the village lane, was staring at them. Recognized, she approached.
Weroansqua,” Sokanon greeted.
Instantly, Alsoomse rose. Her left hand covering her mouth, she faced about.
“Sokanon. Alsoomse. You are teaching these children well.” Hurit looked at Wapun and Pules, who were watching her with large eyes. “Is that not so?” she said to them.
“Yes, Weroansqua, they are very good,” Wapun answered.
Pules nodded vigorously.
“I am pleased.” Hurit looked at Alsoomse, then Sokanon. “I have another duty I wish that you perform.”
Sokanon’s eyes flitted.
“I want both of you to accompany me to Croatoan, tomorrow. To serve me. Together with my step-daughter Allawa, and two other young women.”
Alsoomse’s cheekbone skin tingled. Her arms felt the release of adrenaline. She had expected criticism.
“Both of you look surprised.” Her amused smile accentuated her unaffected beauty.
“Weroansqua, we will serve you well,” Sokanon answered.
Hurit nodded. Her face hardened. “You should know that Croatoan’s weroansqua has asked me to attend a meeting she is to have with Piemacum’s important men, believing, we suspect, that Piemacum wants her to submit herself and her people to his authority.”
Alsoomse felt a second surge of adrenaline. Quick to reveal resentment, to exhibit temper, her face burned. The Croatoans were gentle people. Her father Matunaagd had said so, often. For some time now they had been led by a woman; perhaps that explained their unaggressive behavior. A thought occurred to her. “Weroansqua,” she said, “I believe I know her purpose.”
“Which is …?”
“Your presence will answer Pienacum’s question without the weroansqua needing to give it.”
Hurit nodded, an acknowledgment. “You are perceptive. Alsoomse. You are your father and mother’s daughter.” She looked at Alsoomse soberly. “I do have concerns about you.”
Sokanon interrupted. “Will Granganimeo, or Wingina, accompany us?”
Not a perceptive question, cousin, Alsoomse thought, a brief thought, immediately erased by what Hurit might mean about being concerned.
“No, Sokanon. Their presence would cause a fight.” Hurit’s face softened. “I am to go, alone. Men do not normally fight women.”
“We leave … when?”
“Immediately after the casting of tobacco. Several of our men will take us there in two canoes. They will not be men of high station.” For the first time Hurit looked at Nana and Odina. “I will need Machk to be one of them.  Please tell him.”
“I will, Weroansqua,” Nana responded.
Sokanon made a small hand gesture. Hurit raised her eyebrows. “I will need somebody to look after my mother.” Sokanon’s face apologized.
“I am certain one of your friends here will do that.”
Simultaneously, Nana and Odina nodded.
“Then everything is arranged.” Hurit turned, took two steps toward the lane, and stopped. Pivoting, she looked at Alsoomse. “One other matter.” Her eyes examined the length of Alsoomse’s body. “I expect you to show your high station the entire time we are there. That means necklaces, Alsoomse. Bracelets. Beads hanging from your ears. You will be representing this village, not yourself. Do you have them?”
“I should not have to ask.”
“No.” Here was the expected criticism. She felt the beginning of another burn.
Hurit studied her, too long. The heat had reached Alsoomse’s ears.
“Why do you do this? Are you not proud of your parents’ standing?” Hurit looked at Alsoomse’s legs. “No tatooes, not even on your calves. Your cousin has them” – she pointed – “there, and there, and on her arms. She wears a nice shell necklace. Polished bones hang from her ears. Every day. Why must you be so different?”
She wants to know; I will tell her!
“We are different people.”
“That is obvious.”
“I love my cousin.” Alsoomse’s eyes combated Hurit’s sarcasm. “I respect her for who she is. It is not because she is my cousin or she is the daughter of parents of high station. It is because of who she is.”
“We all judge people that way.”
“I know some who do not. And some people of high station expect to be treated well but do not deserve to be.” She was thinking of Askook, Hurit’s younger brother.
Hurit studied her at length. With her left index finger she touched the outer side of her left breast. Her fingers curled. “Are you saying that people who are leaders, who take the responsibility of looking after the welfare of their followers, should not be treated with respect?” Hurit’s anger was palpable.
“No, Weroansqua, I do not.” She felt the redness of her face. “I am saying that people like me born into high station should have to earn respect, not demand it. I do not want anyone to believe I am such a person. I also believe that people not born of high station who deserve respect should receive it.”
Fists pressed against her hip bones, Hurit regarded her. “You are outspoken in your beliefs.”
“I spoke them because you asked.”
The bottom of her chin rigid, parallel to the ground, Alsoomse maintained eye contact. Peripherally, Odina and Nana were figures of stone.
Hurit’s eyes did not deviate. “You should know, Alsoomse, that there are people in this village, and at Dasemunkepeuc, who believe that you are dangerous. Strong-headed dangerous. My husband has spoken of it. Our priest has spoken of it. You risk punishment, from Kiwasa, from your leaders. I will expect you to keep your thoughts to yourself while we are at Croatoan.  I have … tolerated your independence, until now. I must be certain that you will control it while we are there.” Her eyes bored.  “Your answer?”
She would be truthful, not weak. “I respect you and all of our leaders. I will do nothing to hurt our people.”
“You will wear ornaments that signify your station?”
Alsoomse hesitated. “Yes, Weroansqua, I will.”
Alsoomse’s trip to Croatoan begins a journey of conflict, error-commitment, and self-discovery.

Friday, February 5, 2016

"Snow Falling on Cedars"
by David Guterson
Its setting the fictitious San Piedro Island (one of the San Juan Islands between Victoria, Canada, and Bellingham, Washington), “Snow Falling on Cedars” begins in 1954 with the start of the murder trial of Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese-American gill-net fisherman accused of killing Carl Heine, another gill-net fisherman, at sea at night in dense fog.  The novel goes repeatedly back in time as early as the mid-1930s to present back-stories of its main characters.  Readers are given ample cause to identify with them.  Ultimately, taking sides during the course of the trial, the reader hopes that justice, not human fear and prejudice, will prevail.
The author, David Guterson, is outstanding in portraying character.  He is meticulous in revealing physical habits and appearance and psychological characteristics.  He exceeds most writers in his ability to humanize his characters.
This is true even of minor characters.  I appreciated greatly such diligence.  The county coroner, Horace Whaley, who appears in only one chapter, is a good example.  
Horace was by inclination a private man, nearing fifty now, with a sprawling port-wine stain on the left side of his forehead that he often fingered unconsciously.  In appearance he was tidy and meticulous, storklike and slender … and wore his starched trousers high on his narrow waist and his scant hair slicked from right to left with pomade.  Horace Whaley’s eyes bulged—his thyroid gland was overactive—and swam, too, behind his spectacles.  Something attenuated, a nervous caution, suggested itself in all his movements.
Horace had served as a medical officer for twenty months in the Pacific theater and had suffered in that period from sleep deprivation and from a generalized and perpetual tropical malaise that had rendered him, in his own mind, ineffective,  Wounded men in his care had died, they died while in his sleepless daze Horace was responsible for them,  In his head these men and their bloody wounds mingled into one recurring dream.
Four characters are especially important in this story.
Ishmael Chambers, owner and editor of the local newspaper, has more than a professional interest in the outcome of the trial.  He and the defendant’s wife, Hatsue (Imada) Miyamoto, grew up in close proximity of each other.  They were classmates.  During the summer they worked near each other picking strawberries.  They spent time together looking for sand crabs.  Childhood friends, they became more than friends after puberty.  Ishmael fell deeply in love with her.  Despite the cultural training she had received that forbad having a romantic relationship with any male not Japanese, she returned his affection.  Her sense of guilt in deceiving her mother and a growing sense that committing herself to him was wrong precedes the removal of all Japanese-Americans on the island to the Japanese internment camp Manzanar in early 1942.  From the camp Hatsue writes Ishmael that their relationship has ended.  Ishamel takes the rejection hard.  He is wounded at Okinawa; his left arm is amputated.  After the war he succeeds his father as owner and editor of the town newspaper.  Hatsue has married Kabuo Miyamoto and is the mother of children. 
… the anger about her had finished gradually bleeding out of him and had slowly dried up and blown away.  Nothing had replaced it, either.  … She slept in the same bed every night with Kabuo Miyamoto.  He had taught himself to forget as best he could.  The only thing left was a vague sense of waiting for Hatsue—a fantasy—to return to him.  How, exactly, this might be achieved he could not begin to imagine, but he could not keep himself from feeling that he was waiting and that these years were only an interim between other years he had passed and would pass again with Hatsue.
Kabuo Miyamoto is the great grandson of a samurai.  His father began training him to use the bokken, a wooden sword, before he was ten.  He became very proficient in stick-fighting.  At Manzanar he builds furniture for the Imada family.  He and Hatsue become acquainted.  Prior to Kabuo’s enlistment in the army to fight in Italy, they marry.  It is against Hatsue’s wishes.  She is not able to dissuade him.  His stated reason for enlisting is that he must prove himself to be a loyal American.  His unstated reason is that he has inherited his great grandfather’s desire to engage in battle.
Before the war, Kabuo’s family worked on Carl Heine’s father’s strawberry acreages.  The father, unlike most of the white population on San Piedro Island, is liberal-minded.  He hadsa high regard for the Miyamoto family.  When Kabuo’s father asks Carl Sr. if he would sell him seven acres of strawberry land, to be paid in installments, the senior Heine agrees.  His wife, Etta, a very bigoted woman, opposes.  The installments would continue until Kabuo reaches the age of eighteen, when title to the purchased land would be transferred to him.  State law forbad people born in Japan to own property.  They could not become American citizens.  Born in American, however, Kabuo would become eligible to own property upon his eighteenth birthday.  Two installments remain to be paid when all the Japanese families on the island are removed to Manzanar.  Over his wife’s objections, Carl Sr. agrees to be flexible about the delay of the final payments.  During the war he dies.  Etta sells all of Carl’s property, including the seven acres.  She returns what Kabuo’s father has paid but pockets the property’s equity.  After Kabuo returns from war, he is not able to purchase the desired acreage from the new owner.  In September 1954, the owner, now ill, gives notice that he wishes to sell his land.  Carl Jr., who wants to be a strawberry farmer, not continue to fish, makes an agreement to buy the property hours before Kabuo approaches the owner.
The county sheriff, Art Moran, recalls that Carl had served as a gunner on the U.S.S. Canton, which went down during the invasion of Okinawa.  He’d survived the war—other island boys hadn’t—and come home to a gill-netter’s life.  … He weighed two hundred and thirty-five pounds, much of it carried in his chest and shoulders.  … He worked alone.  He was courteous but not friendly.  … Carl Heine was a good man.  He was silent, yes, and grave like his mother, but the war had a part in that, Art realized.  Carl rarely laughed, but he did not seem, to Art’s way of thinking, unhappy or dissatisfied.  When his mother, Etta, complains that Kabuo -- who had been a childhood friend and who had loaned Carl a bamboo fishing pole which Etta had demanded be returned – is staring at her evilly, Carl promises to keep an eye on Kabuo.  It is common knowledge in the community that Kabuo is angry for having been thwarted owning the seven acre property.
When Carl is found drowned in his gill net, suspicion is focused directly on Kabuo.  Art Moran’s investigation adds credence to that suspicion.  Kabuo is charged with first degree murder.
At this juncture in the novel my main purpose in continuing to read was to discover whether Kabuo was actually guilty and, guilty or not, whether the town’s prejudice toward its Japanese ancestry neighbors would deliver a guilty verdict.  The author skillfully sustained my doubt until the last chapter.
I was impressed with the author’s knowledge of location, gill-net fishing, autopsy of corpses, trial procedures, Japanese culture, every subject that is germane to the story.  I was as impressed with the author’s subjective narrative skills as I was his ability to characterize.  Here is what he wrote after Hatsue had told Ishmael (prior to she and her family being sent to Manzanar) that their relationship had ended.
When she finally did leave it was well past dusk, and she walked out of the woods and into the open with the intention of not looking back again.  But after ten steps she did so despite herself—it was too hard not to turn around.  It was in her to say good-bye forever and tell him she would never see him again, to explain to him that she’d chosen to part because in his arms she felt unwhole.  But she didn’t say it, that they had been too young, that they had not seen clearly, that they had allowed the forest and the beach to sweep them up, that all of it had been delusion all along, that she had not been who she was.  Instead, unblinking, she looked at him, unable to hurt him in the way that was demanded and in some undefined way still loving what he was, his kindness, his seriousness, the goodness in his heart.  He stood there, Ishmael, looking at her desperately, and that was the way she would remember him.  Twelve years later she would still see him this way, standing at the edge of the strawberry fields beneath the cover of the silent cedars, a handsome boy with one arm outstretched, beckoning her to come back.
My only criticism of the book is that I did not feel Ishmael was an entirely believable character.  Yes, his feelings of love for Hatsue and his pain and anger about losing her seemed authentic.  Not to have moved on but, instead, to have lived for twelve years in an emotional vacuum up to the beginning of the trial seemed excessive.  In the same vein his behavior during the trial seemed contrived. 
This is not a novel that can be read cover to cover easily.  Savor the content.  Enjoy the depth of characterization.  Appreciate the author’s craft.  Contemplate the theme: unfairness pervades life.  Accident rules “every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart.”  There is much to appreciate.