This Week's Reads

Michael Chorost and David A. Neiwert.

Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human

By Michael Chorost (Houghton Mifflin, $24) Engagingly geeky, unafraid to delve into his intimate medical details, dating catastrophes, and TV fixations, Michael Chorost brings a new technological twist to the modern memoir. Unlike most first-time authors with their tales of dysfunction and woe, he has a real and specific physiological condition: deafness, which was treated with hearing aids and intense parental support until, in 2001, everything went quiet. Now profoundly deaf (as opposed to merely "hard of hearing"), this self- described computer geek elects to undergo surgery for a cochlear implant, a technology only recently refined, and becomes a proud but reflective cyborg. That's not just a figure of speech; Chorost traces the term to its 1960 coining (four years before he was born), and follows it through his favorite childhood TV show—The Six Million Dollar Man (based on Martin Caidin's 1973 novel, Cyborg). With the chip in his skull, he becomes part human, part machine. His hearing depends on the code passing between the implant, its magnetically attached head bulb, and a computer attached by wire at his waist. At one point the author eagerly notes, "I was reading my own software." Equally telling is his online dating slogan: Steve Austin seeks Jane Austen. As he reminds us about the TV show, however, Austin had a lot of problems adjusting to his new and improved self—as does Chorost. His software has to be constantly debugged and updated; he has to relearn sounds and human voices based on what the implant tells him; and the little magnetic receiver thingie can fall off at inopportune times. Still, being a techie who constantly drops references to Dune and Star Trek and the brain's "neural plasticity," he's the right guy for the device and the right guy to explain to us how it works. Rebuilt is undeniably padded with Chorost's dating adventures and sci-fi citations, like a long-form story that more properly belongs in Wired. Still, the author's enthusiasm and smarts come through on every page. And he acknowledges debate within the insular deaf community, so compellingly explored in the 2000 documentary Sound and Fury, about cochlear implants for children who would otherwise be raised with sign language. I just hope that he finds a girlfriend. BRIAN MILLER Michael Chorost will appear at University Book Store, 7 p.m. Mon., July 11. Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community

By David A. Neiwert (Palgrave Macmillan, $29.95) As we approach August's 60th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, expect to be barraged (yet again) with hyperpatriotic media reports and books recalling the sacrifices of Americans during World War II. At least Strawberry Days takes an atypical tack, focusing not on GI Joe and Rosie the Riveter but instead on Bellevue's 300 Japanese and Japanese-ancestry residents—two-thirds of them U.S. citizens—who, along with nearly 12,000 others living on the West Coast, were uprooted from their homes and farms in 1942 and incarcerated at inland camps for their own "protection." With its journalistic perspective, Strawberry Days lacks the emotional vigor of, say, Mary Matsuda Gruenewald's new internment-camp memoir, Looking Like the Enemy. Yet David A. Neiwert, once a reporter for the Bellevue Journal-American, uses extensive interviews with ex-internees and the prior printed statements of xenophobes to re-create a wartime climate of distrust, suspicion, and fear that pushed Eastside history to one of its early turning points. Prior to 1942, 95 percent of the vegetables and most of the strawberries grown around Seattle were raised by farmers who were Japanese or whose ancestors were Japanese. Their families had come to America in the early 1900s and cleared the land around Bellevue for cultivation. Though they claimed to admire Japanese "perseverance and efficiency," white supremacists had long sought to deprive these immigrants of property ownership—as well as their historical identity. "I am for a white man's Pacific coast," declared Miller Freeman, a local publisher, Republican activist, and later the mastermind behind Bellevue Square, who'd advocated Japanese deportation since 1907. The kamikaze attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and allegations (dismissed by no less than FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover) of spying by Japanese Americans, fueled the exclusionists' cause and persuaded Franklin D. Roosevelt to order all people of Japanese ancestry evacuated from Bellevue, Seattle, and other coastal communities. Only two years later, and after repeated news reports of bravery demonstrated by Japanese-American soldiers fighting with the U.S. military in Europe, was the exclusionary ban lifted. However, many of the internees returning to Bellevue were met with "No Japs Wanted" signs, and they chose to settle in Seattle instead, leaving former Eastside strawberry fields and other farmland to residential and commercial developers such as Freeman. Most of the information in Strawberry Days has been presented elsewhere. But Neiwert's research into Freeman's role in the Japanese expulsion expands our knowledge of this Eastside "founding father." That plus an epilogue in which the author eviscerates modern revisionists who would defend the internment and dispute racism as one of its causes are, by themselves, worth the price of this book. J. KINGSTON PIERCE David A. Neiwert will appear at University Book Store, 7 p.m. Tues., July 12; at Ravenna Third Place Books (6504 20th Ave. N.E., 206-525-2347), 7:30 p.m. Fri. July 15; and at Elliott Bay Book Co., 7:30 p.m. Tues., July 19.

 
comments powered by Disqus