Perronne, Michael Holloway. Gardens of Hope: A novel. Las Vegas, NV: Chances Press, c2016. 268 p. Paperback. ISBN 978-0-977050642.
This first person novel is a real tear-jerker, a recent historical novel beginning in Los Angeles with the secretive gay life of 1941, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the internment of thousands of Americans of Japanese descent in concentration camps. Jack falls in love with Hiro, a handsome Japanese Nisei (2nd generation), whose family has a small restaurant in Little Tokyo. After two encounters, their budding relationship is swept away by the rabid anti-Japanese sentiment sweeping the country and the internment of West Coast Japanese in concentration camps.
Jack is engaged to be married to the lovely Sally, a neighbor and classmate in a teaching program at USC. Jack knows this won’t work, so he escapes to Manzanar, one of the largest of the concentration camps (see https://www.nps.gov/manz/index.htm). He goes to teach in a bare-bones high school there in the distant California desert. By chance, Hiro’s sister Lily is in Jack’s high school class and through her, he encounters his lost love. They reconnect, but after only a few secret dangerous encounters, Hiro suddenly leaves to join a secret U.S. military operation in the middle of the night.
Jack must live his life without Hiro. He eventually finds a new lover and only in his 80’s does he tell this story of Hiro to his grand-nephew on their way to a reunion at Manzanar. There he stumbles upon Lilly, Hiro’s younger sister and his former student. They reconnect and Jack learns what happened to Hiro and his good life later with a new lover. Lily gives Jack a lovely portrait of himself painted by Hiro just before his death. In the portrait, Jack is helping Hiro work on one of the gardens of hope that were scattered throughout the camp, lovely oases among the misery. Having reconnected with his first real love, Jack enjoys a peaceful death.
This is Perronne’s 7th novel (see www.michaelhperronne.com). He grew up in Mississippi and earned an MFA in writing from the University of New Orleans. He writes well and convincingly, with well-developed characters, both major and minor. However this novel would have benefited from a good human (as opposed to machine) proofreader. It is recommended for all collections of modern gay fiction and also for collections of World War II fiction, and for readers who enjoy such works.
James Doig Anderson
Professor Emeritus of Library and Information Science, Rutgers University