Book Club



Only What We Could Carry



Lawson Fusao Inada was born in Fresno, California in 1938. Inada is an award winning poet and a recipient of the American Book Award, the Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry & he has also received several fellowships from the NEA. He is a third generation Japanese-American citizen (Sansei). When Inada was four years old he and his family had been interned at camps in Fresno, Arkansas and Colorado for the duration of World War II. He cites these experiences within the camps as a chief influence within his poetic works. Inada was appointed the fifth Poet Laureate for the state of Oregon in 2006 & has been Professor of English at Southern Oregon State College since 1966.

William Hohri was born in San Francisco in 1927. He was an American political activist for the rights of those affected by the U.S. policy of internment initiated after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking damages by those held in internment camps during World War II. As a result of these efforts the American Civil Liberties Act of 1988 awarded former detainees $20,000 and an official apology from the U.S. government. In 1989, his book Repairing America: An Account of the Movement for Japanese American Redress was recognized by the American Book Awards. Hohri died in Los Angeles in 2010 from complications of Alzheimer's disease.

Patricia Wakida is a Yonsei whose parents were interned as children in the Jerome & Gila River camps. She has extensive experience researching & writing about Japanese American artists and writers, with work published in numerous newspapers, journals, books and anthologies. (from Heyday Books)



Through personal documents, art, and propaganda, Only What We Could Carry expresses through words, art, and haunting recollections, the fear, confusion and anger of the camp experience (from Heyday Books).


  1. How well did you know the story of the Japanese internment experience before you read this book? How did it change your sense of that historical event?
  2. In ‘performing patriotic deeds' by voluntarily showing up to be deported to the camps, the Japanese-Americans seem willing to let go of their own rights as a show of resolve to be a part of the American cause. Do you think they believed that these acts would be rewarded after the war? Do you feel that you would be willing to give up your individual rights if you thought it would help ease tension in your community? Why do you think they went? Was it an act of faith in the American government, or did they see no other options but to obey?
  3. If you were in the shoes of some of the people featured in this book how would you cope with only keeping what you could carry on your person? What would be most precious to you and why?
  4. The Japanese-American internees were closely quartered and many times deprived of personal privacy. Have you had a similar experience? What are some coping strategies that these individuals developed as a result of being deprived of their personal space? What coping strategies do you have when you are in situations you don't want to be in?
  5. In straddling the line between their two identities (Japanese & American) do you think there would ever be a ‘home' for the people described in the book? What do you consider your ‘home'? Is it the U.S.? Why or why not?
  6. Consider all the activism, and the broader movement towards multicultural acceptance, that has taken place around the issue of Japanese American internment over the last few decades. What cultural movements have you been a part of in your lifetime? Have you ever felt separated from your background or identity while taking part in a cause? Did you ever feel like you were helping create something new in the society that others, some day, could be a part of? Do you still feel that way?


This reading group guide is provided by Small Press Distribution to Engage as You Age as part of the "I Remember Project" to support reading groups for seniors in Marin Country. SPD's "I Remember Project" is generously supported by the Marin Community Foundation.

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