All I Asking for Is My Body (Kolowalu Book)

ISBN: 0824811720
ISBN 13: 9780824811723
By: Milton Murayama Franklin Odo

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Reader's Thoughts


a quick read, but interesting folklore-type story about the Japanese workcamps in Hawaii, prior to WWII


A little book about growing up in a Japanese camp in Hawaii right before Pearl Harbor. I am so thankful when people write the lesser-known histories they've lived through. This should've been required reading for high school history classes.A good, fast read that is an interesting slice of perspective on Hawaiian history.


This was a random read for me. The title caught my eye in a pile of black literature books my roommate had brought home. I started reading with no knowledge of what type of literature it was or what it was about, and was surprised to find a narrative of the Japanese struggle against racism, economic disparities, and social classes in Hawaii. Truth is: I couldn't put the book down. The writing style is enchanting and revealing. The depictions are precise and detailed. He superbly uses variations of both English and Japanese language. By the time you turn the last page, you still want more. We watch the nisei struggle with finding their identity between two distinctly different cultures - how they deal with massively life changing events, how they cope with debt, how they are viewed in society. The ending though is truly surprising, suggesting a certain level of cultural compromise or worse, a cultural rejection. This books definitely falls in the category of resistance literature, liberation narrative, and dual-culture identity exploration.

Paul Jr.

First and foremost, I must state up front that this work is a novella length work, clocking in at approximately 100 pages. But don't let that dissuade you as Milton Murayama packs more into those 100 pages than most novels manage to do in 300+ pages. This is an outstanding work, capturing so many varied aspects of the nisei (second generation Japanese Americans) experience in Hawai'i during the years leading up to (and including) the bombing at Pearl Harbor. I understand completely why it is considered a classic as it drew me in with its deceptively simple prose, rich characters, and vivid setting, all accomplished without verbosity.The story is told from the first person point of view of Kiyoshi, the second son in a Japanese family who came to Hawai'i in the 1930s to work on the sugar cane plantations in order to better their lives. His older brother Tosh, is a headstrong young man, the manifestation of the growing differences between the issei (first generation Japanese Americans) and the nisei and as vastly different from Kiyoshi as can be imagined. In some respects, Kiyoshi is stuck between the old ways of filial piety represented by his parents and the birth of a new generation of Americans of Japanese ancestry represented by Tosh. The family is crippled by massive debt and as much as Tosh rebels against the thought of being saddled as first son, Kiyoshi is relatively content in discovering his own role in this new world.But neither Tosh nor Kiyoshi are stereotypes. As often as Tosh finds the old ways grating and confining, he also find moments of pride in his heritage. Kiyoshi seems more comfortable in the divide between the two generations, seeming to understand the good points of the old ways, but fully aware that his generation is somehow different. Never is the angst in either character over the top, but when Tosh utters the titular line "All I asking for is my body," it packs an emotional wallop.Murayama wisely chose to keep the narration in traditional English, while much of the dialog is in Hawaiian pidgin creole. This choice expertly creates a realistic setting while brilliantly capturing the differences between the ways the issei and nisei communicate. In turn, this subtly demonstrates the growing divide between the two "cultures."What also is fascinating is Murayama's depiction of life on the plantation. The segregation encouraged by the luna (plantation bosses) shows us how the different racial communities were often pitted against one another to the benefit of the corporations milling the cane. It is fascinating and realistic to see the way the various races were pitted against one another, methods that resonate in today's political world. Segregation by debt is also depicted well, the deliberate system of keeping the poor in their place. Kiyoshi's family are trapped in their lives by massive debt and bitterly low wages. It is no wonder Tosh feels suffocated, as if he is in a prison. And that is how it sometimes feels. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, we as readers know that the internment of Japanese Americans is coming, but in many ways Kiyoshi's family has already been imprisoned from the time of their arrival in Hawai'i by the colonial system. The bombing of Pearl is handled briefly, giving us the sense of what it must have been like being on a plantation so far away from the actions in the harbor. The event seemed so far away, but had such an impact upon their lives. This is all done subtly, but allows Murayama to explore the effect on the nisei boys. And that reaction is not standard text-book. The reactions are wonderfully varied, reflecting the complexity of emotions in the boys.Now, I don't want to give the impression that this story is all sturm and drang, some sort of melodrama. It is utterly realistic, but it is peppered with humor and simple beauty. And best of all, within the family, there are no good guys or bad guys. Just a family, trying to make its way.I highly recommend this book, not only for it's realistic portrayal of plantation life in Hawai'i and of the nisei experience, but for the emotional truth that underlies it all.


** spoiler alert ** This is a remarkable story--I just wasn't sure what the author was trying to communicate by ending the story so abruptly, and I thought rather unrealistically. The realism was one of the things that have made this book a classic, but that was disrupted in the conclusion.


best at sibling tensions, inter-generational tensions in hawaiian nikkei community, and resentment of nationalisms. some talk of syndicalism. ultimately, gambles and cheats his way out.

Scott Benyacko

Fantastic view of life in Hawaii pre WWII.


I picked this up in a Kailua bookstore-- a place with several shelves of Hawaiiana including one with many older, out of print titles. The staff member helping me navigate called anything over $6 "expensive" and failed to share my archivist-daughter appreciation for the early 20th C titles that seemed reasonably priced to me.Since I am not in the habit of collecting old Hawaiian books, I stuck with some beginner $6 titles, but I stil haven't gotten over how different the scale of EVERYTHING is in Hawaii. 30 miles across takes you from shore to mountain to shore. Land, plants, people, and "history" are all sparkling new compared to the continents. And the sad, dark events driving so much of that new history are often presented indifferently. Chalk it up to the tourism industry, I guess, but I am having the hardest time finding voices critical of American occupation, Christian missionaries, or militarism, much less "development" under the guises of Dole and Monsanto, or consumerist and orientalist portrayals of Hawaiians. Maybe as a visitor, I just never found the right place to look. The back jacket of THIS book-- so far the closest to resistance lit that I have found-- called it an "underground classic and campus bestseller," drawing comparisons to Huckleberry Finn and Catcher in the Rye. Murayama's "pidgin" English seems to have gotten a lot of literary theorists (and, presumably, linguists) excited when this was published in 1959, but what's even more significant in the context of Hawaiian literature is that he takes the reader into the 1930's/40's plantation experience in a way that had not been done. I'm a product of Virginia public schools, where extraordinary first person acconts of poverty, racial conflict, and brutal physical labor are required reading, so the significance of Murayama's work is somewhat lost on me. I appreciated it most as a completely engrossing coming of age story. And as a window into the pre-WWII Japanese-American experience and plantation-immigrant expereience generally, it is also fascinating.


Japanese American Hawaiian plantation experience: the dutiful bondage of culture and economics in which the rebellious sons struggle and mature. Skillful use of pidgin keeps this accessible but lends and authentic voice. Excellent choice for discussion of linguistic aspects of being Hawaiian as well as ethnicity.


Murayama explores the challenges of family dynamics, clashing cultural values, wartime racism, and the crippling nature of poverty through the changing perceptions of Kiyoshi, the main character, growing from adolescence to adulthood; this means that the book is more questioning the world around than answering, which I loved. Kiyoshi's brother Toshio grapples with wanting to assimilate into white America and his struggle to define his connection with his parents, while Kiyoshi is largely defined by his silence as he attempts to internally reconcile the conflict he is surrounded by; the book is mostly driven by the world around him as he tries to catch hold of what's going on, and Murayama handles this gracefully and honestly.


A revealing portrait of life in a Japanese-American community in Hawaii in the 1930s and 1940s. Compellingly documents the wretched working conditions in the cane fields, as well as the shock wave that Pearl Harbor sent through this community. But it's also a coming of age story, and is told with the lightness that comes from seeing life through the eyes of a young person. Short book - easy to read and hard to put down.




This book is set during Hawaii’s plantation days leading up to World War II. The protagonist, Kiyo Oyama, is a second-generation Japanese American. Hawaii has a rich history and diverse population. Murayama’s stories shares the Hawaiian side of the American experience. It’s a realistic depiction of Hawaiian plantation life. There are haole (white) owners, Portuguese lunas (bosses/middle management) and the Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian, and Japanese worker bees. The story is only 103 pages, but reveals a lot about Hawaii’s diversity, racial tensions, and social classes.


The plantation days are always either romanticized or vilified. People who grew up then reminisce about swapping laulau for musubi, speaking Hawaiian and pidgin with the other kids, swimming and fishing in the clean open ocean every day, and playing music late into the night at the knees of wise folksy old-timers. Plantation bosses kept everybody fed and clothed and entertained and educated with sports teams and movies and fall festivals-- a little zion on earth. And then there's the other view: the plantations consciously set about breaking the Hawaiians from their land, and drove wedges between the different ethnic groups so that they could never effectively unionize or strike. The last vestige of fuedalism, right here, with shocking work conditions, open sewers running through the streets, impossible hours, and-- thanks to the plantation store-- nothing but negative pay.This little novella brings the two views together. Yes, he romped, speared fish, went to school, picked coconuts, played plantation sports, and was a member of a little plantation family. He also saw the striking Filipino workers get evicted, get replaced, and starve. The family works for years without ever reducing their debt. He has to quit school in the 8th grade to work 6 days a week.So it's both-- the plantations were cruel and ugly. But they were also the crucible that formed Hawaii, good and bad.


This was an interesting book to read as someone who was born and raised in Hawaii. Though brief, it is a great picture of plantation life and the background for modern day Hawaii. However, I don't think it would have very much appeal to anyone uninterested in Hawaii.

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