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Letters to Memory

Letters to Memory
A memoir by Karen Tei Yamashita

This dive into the Yamashita family archive and Japanese internment runs a documentary impulse through filters that shimmer with imagination. 

September 2017

6 x 9 | 184 Pages
Trade Paper

Thanks to a 2013 ADA Access Improvement Grant administered by VSA Minnesota for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, this title is also formatted for screen readers which make text accessible to the blind and visually impaired.

To purchase this title for use with a screen reader please call (612) 338-0125 or email us at info@coffeehousepress.org.

ISBN: 978-1-56689-487-6.



Letters to Memory is an excursion through the Japanese internment using archival materials from the Yamashita family as well as a series of epistolary conversations with composite characters representing a range of academic specialties. Historians, anthropologists, classicists—their disciplines, and Yamashita’s engagement with them, are a way for her to explore various aspects of the internment and to expand its meaning beyond her family, and our borders, to ideas of debt, forgiveness, civil rights, orientalism, and community.

These special reissues are also available:
Through the Arc of the Rainforest
Tropic of Orange



“Shaped and voiced with literary flair, this is clearly a book Yamashita felt compelled to write, and her sense of purpose makes this historical excavation feel deeply personal.” Kirkus

“While this account may provide context for some of the themes found in Yamashita’s fiction, the author’s personal reflections on a dark period of American history will resonate with a larger audience concerned with how some U.S. organizations have targeted specific communities.” —Library Journal, *starred review*

“[Letters to Memory] is a challenging, varied work, in moments deeply personal and impressionistic and in moments pulling back into a voice of epic omniscience.” —Boston Globe 

“Yamashita goes beyond her family’s story as internees to unpack what that experience became as they dealt with the ordeal of building new identities and re-establishing their communities in the face of great loss and ongoing racism. It also very personally deals with the author’s emotions regarding this legacy. This is the work of establishing these deeds as an ongoing, living part of America’s being.” —Literary Hub

“More than just a memoir, this book teaches by example a new kind of relationship you can have with your familial, national, and cultural story. This is an important book.” —Porter Square Books

“A timely, thoughtful examination of an often unspoken period of American history…” The Margins

“… Letters to Memory is a work of genius… a groundbreaking exploration and example of how we can build a sense of self through interaction with our pasts…” The Order of Importance

“This is one of those books that’s so damn good, and also incredibly essential right now…” —Conversational Reading

“Always in the foreground is the meta nature of Yamashita’s enterprise; we are not to experience a story but are prodded to pay attention to the ways of approaching, circling it. . . . An intriguing experiment in memoir.” Star Tribune

Letters to Memory is not only for history buffs searching out new perspectives, but for anyone wanting to better understand humanity.” —NewPages

“Allusive, quirky, questioning, ‘Letters’ is a challenging text; for all its brevity, the less-than-200 pages are dense with assumptions of cultural literacy, community insight, historical background. And yes, don’t be deterred: for ‘gentle, critical, or however’ readers ready for intellectual stimulation, ‘Letters’ awaits your inquisitive participation and rewarding collaboration.” —The Christian Science Monitor