Summary—Ten Thousand Voices

Papa’s life ended at Manzanar . . . . Until this trip I had not been able to admit that my own life really began there.

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Jeanne is the first of her family to graduate from college and the first to marry a non-Japanese person. That most Japanese do not talk about Manzanar and that many non-Japanese have never heard of it make her wonder if she imagined the whole thing. Her family rarely talks about the camp, and some experiences remain secret, such as when an old woman spat on Jeanne and Kiyo and called them “dirty Japs.” In 1966, Jeanne meets a white photographer who had worked at Manzanar, and though at first she finds it difficult, she soon begins to talk about the camp with the woman.

In April 1972, Jeanne and her husband visit the ruins of Manzanar with their three children. She is surprised that Manzanar could be located so near a highway filled with bikers and vacationers headed for the mountains. They finally spot the stand of elms and fruit trees that mark the ruins of the camp. During the internment, Manzanar was the largest town between Reno and Los Angeles, but now only a few buildings remain. Inside the camp, they notice a white obelisk marking twelve graves. Jeanne thinks of her mother, who died seven years earlier, and begins to feel and hear the presence of those who once lived at Manzanar. They explore the site and discover small rock gardens created by Issei men like her father. They also discover the remains of a small park, which ends suddenly in tumbleweeds and a bare mound.

Jeanne looks at the ruins as she would an archeological site and notices the outlines and patterns of a city. She finds a ring of stones where the American flag was raised each morning, but she is disturbed that the date on the inscription is marked a.d., as if the mason intended his work to endure for centuries. She crosses the windy firebreak, and with the wind, the sound of the voices grows. She closes her eyes and imagines that nothing has changed. She hears laughter and the singing of the Glee Club, and sees old men burning orange peels to keep away mosquitoes. She looks for the site of her former home in Block 28 and locates the orchard next to which her family used to live.

Jeanne watches her eleven-year-old daughter, who is the same age Jeanne was when the camps closed. She realizes that her life really began at the camp, just as Papa’s life ended there. Since leaving the camp, she has nearly succeeded in suppressing her memory of it, but she occasionally hears her mother’s voice saying that the difficulty is starting over. Now that she has visited Manzanar, she no longer wants to lose it but feels she can finally say “farewell” to it.

Just before leaving, Jeanne uncovers a stepping-stone next to a small rock garden. She imagines it is the garden Papa built and sees an image of him sitting on the porch tending to Mama’s sore back. She sees a wildness in his eyes that takes her back to the day he bought the car to move the family back to Los Angeles. He is drunk and driving the car on two flat tires. He makes Mama and the girls get in the car and speeds around the camp, swerving and yelling at the departing families not to miss their bus. Jeanne is afraid, but she takes comfort in Papa’s madness and suddenly has complete faith that he will get them past the dark cloud of hatred that awaits them in the outside world.


Wakatsuki’s change of tone from observational to nostalgic illustrates her own transition from denying her time at Manzanar to accepting it as one of the most important events of her life. She opens the chapter with a dry, observational list of details about what she sees and hears. However, this tone takes on an eerie quality halfway through the chapter when Wakatsuki discovers the memorial to the dead and begins to hear what she thinks are the voices of ghosts of those who died in the camp. Surrounded by barbed wire, the memorial becomes a miniature image of the camp itself from which the residents cannot escape even in death. That Jeanne has almost convinced herself over the years that she only imagined Manzanar requires her to prove to herself that it is indeed real. She portrays the voices and images that come back to her as if she is reliving them. By interweaving her memories among the details of what she actually sees, she draws us into her past. By the end of the chapter, her real observations of the ruins have disappeared, and the world of her memory has completely enveloped us. Recognizing Manzanar as a real place with a real history makes Jeanne realize that her life really began there, which transforms her experience at Manzanar from an emotional burden she carries with her into a crucial part of her identity.