Carl Nomura,
Sleeping on Potatoes:
A Lumpy Adventure From
Manzanar to the Corporate Tower

(Erasmus, 2003)

When most people think about World War II, images of the German concentration camps for the Jews come to mind. It is thought that the Allies did not have concentration camps, yet we did. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, over 100,000 U.S. citizens with Japanese ancestry were interred in prison camps throughout the United States. These folks were U.S. citizens by birth or by choice, yet they were rounded up and ultimately treated worse than many European Axis POWs.

Carl Nomura was one of these Americans by birth who was treated wrongly during this time period. In his biography, Sleeping on Potatoes: A Lumpy Adventure From Manzanar to the Corporate Tower, he describes how he grew up during the Depression with a despicable father. From poverty and abuse at the hands of his father to poverty and abuse at the hand of his government, it would have been understandable if Carl's life had continued downhill. Through perseverance, determination, education and wit, this man has been very successful.

This book is written in the style of a journal. Each chapter is broken up into short sections that detail some aspect of the chapter's theme. For example, the title of the book comes from the chapter that describes his internment. He had a period where he worked sorting and sacking potatoes. At night, he would simply create a bed on a mound of potatoes.

These sections are rather short -- often less than a page, never longer than several at most. This, coupled with the easy writing style, makes the book quite manageable, especially for those who only have five minutes here or there to read.

This book will take you on an emotional rollercoaster. You will feel sorry for Carl and his siblings as you read about their father. You will be incensed at the way Carl was treated because of ignorance and stupidity. You will laugh as Carl looks on life in amusing ways. Whether or not you agree with the philosophy he dispenses periodically in the book, you will be entertained. And (just so Carl doesn't get publicly berated by Oprah, I imagine), he admits in the preface that while he tried to tell things the way they were, if it was boring, he lied.

The mistreatment of different races in the U.S. unfortunately still happens today. Carl mentions the current distrust of anyone of Middle Eastern descent. Since 9/11, Americans see "terrorists" everywhere! In a similar discriminatory vein, I've seen Hispanic friends in Texas whose families have been in the U.S. for generations and consider themselves Americans first, Mexican second, who have been wrongly called wetbacks and treated like outsiders. I, too, have been discriminated against because of my skin color. Without getting to know me as an individual, there are those that automatically consider me the "devil" since some white men in the past owned slaves.

One of the things that I really like about Sleeping on Potatoes is that Carl does not hide the fact that he went through a time of mistreatment, yet he chose to rise above it. Carl maintained his sense of humor and decided to better his situation instead of complaining about how the world was unfair. Carl pursued higher education, made his way through the corporate ranks and, most importantly, cultivated loving relationships with the important people in his life. This memoir demonstrates that it is possible to rise above the hand life dealt you. If you don't like the hand, change the cards.

by Wil Owen
17 June 2006

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