SECRET HARVESTS: A Hidden Story of Separation and the Resilience of a Family Farm

By David Mas Masumoto, illustrated by Patricia Wakida (Pasadena, Calif.: Red Hen Press, 2023, 232 pp., $28.07, hardcover)

“Secret Harvests: A Hidden Story of Separation and the Resilience of a Family Farm” is a master artist at work and as David Mas Masumoto’s past writings have taught us, we mustn’t hurry, but be open and allow the words to resound. From the start, we are asked to pause, take a deep breath and listen alongside him.

“The ghosts in this book are serious and quiet, yet alive. They laugh with a twisted humor and lighter moments, even while showing me that I’m asking the wrong questions.

“‘Just listen,’ they seem to whisper to me.

“‘Just listen.’”

He receives a phone call from a funeral home about an aunt in hospice — an aunt he never knew, an aunt institutionalized and never talked about. Thus begins his inquiry more than 70 years later,

“Why didn’t I know about Shizuko? How can my aunt survive decades of institutionalized care — alone? Why did no one in my generation know about her?”

He asks the difficult questions first of himself, and then gently with those still alive to remember, to help piece together the hidden past.

Every family has secrets — hidden, forgotten, unspoken. With courage and vulnerability, Mas unveils the story of Shizuko. With his lyrical writing style, the landscape of the fields and the countryside that surrounds her early years offer a comforting backdrop. Each chapter sketches a recreated and reimagined piece of her family story, and offers context on broader themes as immigrants, on culture, of racism and separation. Then, each chapter ends with a poetic thought to ponder.

“Accept fate and let go,
by not remembering.”

His Aunt Shizuko had both physical and mental disabilities due to childhood meningitis. As the story unfolds, we learn more about Shizuko and how she survived.

“Secret Harvests” also unveils a series of linoleum block prints by Patricia Wakida. Invited to create cover artwork, Wakida delved into the manuscript to find images that could reflect the story. Delighted by the initial artwork, Masumoto invited her to create more, one for each chapter.

Masumoto invites the reader to take the journey with him, ask their own questions and uncover their family story. The questions may be simply stated, but the layers are deep. “Secret Harvests” is at once a family story, a memoir, a meditation and a remembrance.

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