by Kristina McMorris
“That’s so nice of you, adopting a cute little Oriental baby,” the woman had remarked to my mother, standing in the grocery checkout line. It wasn’t the first time a well-intentioned stranger had voiced the sentiment about my little sister. Eventually, with a dose of good humor, my mom had a T-shirt created for my sister that read: No, I’m not adopted.
That seemed to do the trick.
I suppose I can understand the common misconception back then; interracial families were less prominent in the ’80s than they are today. With a Caucasian American mother and Japanese immigrant father, people didn’t quite know what to make of us. I recall other families staring in fascination at our table in restaurants. When I visited friends’ houses, their parents were often intrigued that I removed my shoes at the door. While other homes in our suburban neighborhood boasted green lawns and trimmed hedges, our yard featured an oversized bonsai-shaped tree and a koi pond.
Upon reflection, I find the differences amusing. As a kid, however, when “fitting in” trumped all, the ways in which we stood out wasn’t as welcome. I wanted to be the blond haired-blue eyed girl. When taking state-administered school exams, allowed only one choice, I wanted a clear ethnicity bubble to fill in: Caucasian? Asian-Pacific Islander? None of the above?
(To this day, the second option conjures images of a grass skirt and coconut bikini.)
Of course, with the passing of time and society's increased number of “mixed” relationships, the uniqueness of our family has lessened. I’ve come to celebrate the differences with which I was raised and grown comfortable, as they say, in my own skin. And yet, I haven’t forgotten the struggles of living between worlds, striving to determine where I belonged.
It was this perspective that drew me to write my latest novel, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves. While researching the initial story idea of two brothers during WWII, one who fought for America and the other for Japan, I happened across a brief mention of roughly two hundred non-Japanese spouses who lived voluntarily in the Japanese American relocation camps.
I knew right then that I’d discovered my next story. Suddenly, I was grateful for my past struggles that would help shape my characters, all of whom find themselves on a search for their true identity. I suppose, in various ways, that’s a journey in life everyone takes—even if we don’t own a T-shirt to say so.
Bridge of Scarlet Leaves:
Los Angeles, 1941. Violinist Maddie Kern's life seemed destined to unfold with the predictable elegance of a Bach concerto. Then she fell in love with Lane Moritomo. Her brother's best friend, Lane is the handsome, ambitious son of Japanese immigrants. Maddie was prepared for disapproval from their families, but when Pearl Harbor is bombed the day after she and Lane elope, the full force of their decision becomes apparent. In the eyes of a fearful nation, Lane is no longer just an outsider, but an enemy.
When her husband is interned at a war relocation camp, Maddie follows, sacrificing her Juilliard ambitions. Behind barbed wire, tension simmers and the line between patriot and traitor blurs. As Maddie strives for the hard-won acceptance of her new family, Lane risks everything to prove his allegiance to America, at tremendous cost.
Skillfully capturing one of the most controversial episodes in recent American history, Kristina McMorris draws readers into a novel filled with triumphs and heartbreaking loss--an authentic, moving testament to love, forgiveness, and the enduring music of the human spirit.
Kristina McMorris is a graduate of Pepperdine University and the recipient of nearly twenty national literary awards. A host of weekly TV shows since age nine, including an Emmy® Award-winning program, she penned her debut novel, Letters from Home (Kensington Books, Avon/HarperCollins UK), based on inspiration from her grandparents' wartime courtship. This critically praised book was declared a must-read by Woman's Day magazine and achieved additional acclaim as a Reader's Digest Select Editions feature, a Doubleday/Literary Guild selection, and a 2011 Goodreads Choice Awards semifinalist for Best Historical Fiction. Her second novel, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves (March 2012), has already received glowing reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, among many others. Named one of Portland's "40 Under 40" by The Business Journal, Kristina lives with her husband and two sons in the Pacific Northwest, where she refuses to own an umbrella.
For more, visit www.KristinaMcMorris.com