Courting Tragedy: Romance and the Liberal Redemption of Japanese American Mass Incarceration

Publication year
Journal of Popular Romance Studies

Here's the abstract:

The efforts of Americans to come to grips with the meanings as well as the consequences of the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II took a new turn in the 1990s in the pages of popular romances. This new direction was embodied in David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars and Danielle Steel's Silent Honor, which attempted to find white redemption in wartime Japanese American history. Both authors strove for a historical authenticity that helped to disguise the ways in which their novels sought to absolve Americans for their unconstitutional wartime misdeeds. The novels (as well as the film based on Guterson’s tale) also functioned to seal off racism in a distant past, allowing liberals to congratulate themselves for both what was done during the war and what had transpired since it. The romance form abetted such efforts, leveraging genre expectations of reconciliation and a coming together that fit neatly with prevailing attitudes about the past and present. In the 1990s, Americans “courted” tragedy under the guidance of Guterson and Steel in ways that let themselves off the hook with allegedly happy endings of both individual and societal redemption.


Although Austin describes "David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars (acclaimed as both a novel in 1994 and a film in 1999) and Danielle Steel’s Silent Honor" as "Two of the biggest romances" of the 1990s, he also states that "Guterson’s work, never aimed at being a romance, anyway [...]: the novel has a happy ending for white liberalism, but not for his protagonists as they cannot rekindle their past relationship". I am therefore not considering it a romance, so have not added a tag for Guterson.