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Book Review : Yokohama Yankee

Yokohama Yankee by Leslie Helm (Chin Music Press, 2013)

by Geraldine Shu, The North American Post

In a struggle to find his cultural identity, Leslie Helm takes us on a captivating journey back in time spanning five generations of his family’s history in Japan.  His great grandfather immigrated from Germany to Yokohama where he began a prominent stevedoring business in 1869. His marriage to a Japanese woman resulted in 7 biracial children and subsequent generations of descendants with mixed blood and multiethnicities. Although the Helm family lived in Japan for much of their nearly 150-year history, they never felt totally accepted into the Japanese culture. As a result, various family members had opposing loyalties to Germany, Japan, and the US during two world wars, two major earthquakes in Japan, the Depression, as well as other major global events. The historical, business, and cultural perspectives all provide added depth and dimension to a very absorbing tale.

This story is an honest and heartfelt quest for a sense of place, culture, and identity not only for the author but for his ancestors and for his own descendants. The book is beautifully illustrated with color and black & white family photos, maps, woodblock prints, and the Helm family tree depicting nearly every member which greatly facilitates making this story come alive for the reader. The former foreign correspondent resides with his family in Seattle where multicultural identities have become much more common and well-accepted.