'Of White Ashes' brings the WWII Japanese-American experience to life

Two people smile next to separate photo of book cover
Kent (left) and Constance Matsumoto mined their own family history to tell the fictionalized story of two Japanese-Americans who saw WWII from different sides of the conflict.
Courtesy photos

When Ruby Ishimaru and her family are sent away from Hawaii to a mainland internment camp in 1942, Ruby packs her treasures — photographs, seashells and the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. She finds comfort in Laura’s adventures even as she and her family are thrust into the frightening unknown.

On the other side of the world, the unknown is also baring down on Japan, where young Koji Matsuo watches the country rally for war from his home in Hiroshima.

When Ruby and Koji eventually meet in California, their love story begins. But can their traumas be overcome?

It’s a question familiar to author Kent Matsumoto, who together with his wife, Constance, mined his own family history to tell the stories of Ruby and Koji. Their new novel, “Of White Ashes,” tells a fictionalized version of his parents experiences in World War II. Destined to become a classic in the classroom, it artfully depicts the frustration of American citizens being incarcerated by their own country and the horrors of the atomic bomb.

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MPR News host Kerri Miller was joined by the Matsumotos on this week’s Big Books and Bold Ideas, to talk about how they did their research, their realizations and their hopes for “Of White Ashes.”


Use the audio player above to listen to the podcast version of the conversation.

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