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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Allegiance by Kermit Roosevelt - Liked

Allegiance by Kermit Roosevelt – What a dilemma. Half of the book fascinated and intrigued me. Half of the book puzzled and frustrated me.
The intriguing part involved the exploration of the American Japanese internment court cases from World War II. The government, having interned 120,000 Japanese Americans (most of them American citizens) faced legal challenges to the internments during the war.
Caswell Harrison, known to the Philadelphia elite as Cash, has just finished law school after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Failing his physical after being drafted leaves him unsettled and anxious to find a way to contribute to the war effort.
Offered a clerkship at the United States Supreme Court by Justice Hugo Black he is persuaded to take up the position of clerk as a means of serving his country. Among the major issues coming before the Court are the Japanese cases.
Roosevelt brings alive the great Supreme Court Justices of that era such as Black, Felix Frankfurter, Robert Jackson and William Douglas.
Cash observes them as judges and in their personal lives, how they react to pending cases and what sways them in reaching decisions.
Black loves playing tennis and has a full size tennis court in his backyard.
Cash’s year at the Court passes swiftly and he unexpectedly learns how the clerks sometimes influence decisions.
Later in the book he joins the Department of Justice and is tasked with supporting the internment by defending the actions of the Government. A further round of Japanese cases are reaching the Supreme Court.
Great questions are addressed in the book. What should happen to constitutional rights during war time? If rights are not upheld in time of crisis what are the consequences for the Rule of Law? These questions continue to be weighed by the Court today as the United States proceeds through its second decade of the war against terrorism.
An interned Japanese American Harry Nakamura discusses constitutional rights with Cash:
“The idea of these rights makes life perhaps more difficult,” Harry says softly. “To tell us we are enemies and lock us up, that we can understand. To tell us we are still Americans, to arrest us for refusing the draft, to make our children salute the flag and pledge allegiance to their jailers – it is perhaps this that people cannot bear. Renouncing citizenship could seem a relief.”
As Cash works upon the cases as a lawyer for the Department of Justice he must weigh his personal beliefs against the positions of the Department. What are his personal and professional responsibilities if there is conflict?
As the cases are argued at the Supreme Court late in World War II the nation wonders if the Justices will rule against FDR’s decision to approve the internment. Have the Justices become more independent after a decade of acquiescence to the President’s decisions and policies?
There was drama enough for me in the facts of the internment, the rights of a nation’s citizens during war, the stories of the interned Japanese and a young lawyer’s efforts to balance duty and conscience.
Roosevelt, an American constitutional law professor, brilliantly shows how constitutional law is often dramatic with powerful personal stories.
As the Western World of 2016 assesses the dangers of a violent minority within a minority Roosevelt’s book explores what happens when fear dominates the decisions of a nation.
In my next post I will discuss my struggles with the other plot line.
Allegiance is the first book I have read from the three books on the shortlist for the 2016 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction.

Roosevelt, Kermit – (2007) - In the Shadow of the Law; Hardcover


  1. These aspects of the novel are fascinating, Bill. And they are questions that many different societies have to cope with; as you say, those questions have many implications, too, for individuals' lives. I also like the idea of that behind-the-scenes look at the Supreme Court of the time. I'll be looking forward to reading about what didn't work so well for you in your next post.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. The Canadian government has apologized for its internment of Japanese Canadians during the war. War and constitutions will always be a challenge for democracies.

  2. Bill, this sounds like a very good work of historical fiction. I am assuming the Japanese Americans were interned because their sympathies lay with their country of origin during WWII, especially after the attack on Pearl Harbour. I have a vague recollection of this aspect of the war.

    1. Prashant: Thanks for the comment. There was concern over the loyalty of Japanese Americans but little to no evidence of disloyalty.

  3. There was no evidence of disloyalty by the interned Japanese. Japanese people were interned, even though many joined the U.S. army and fought with the Allied forces. And those in the army were mistreated, too -- put below German POW's on board ships, put on the front lines in Europe. And when they returned home, often their houses had been taken away or there was anti-Japanese graffiti on them and they were subjected to discrimination.
    Nina Revoyr wrote a good novel about Los Angeles which goes into some of this history. One side of her family is Japanese.
    Also, the actor, George Takai, of Star Trek fame, was interned at the age of 4 with his family just because they were Japanese. It lasted for five years in terrible living conditions. Their home was taken away and his father's business.
    And when they could return to California, his father could only get a job as a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant because only Asians would hire the Japanese internees.
    It's a horrible part of U.S. history.

  4. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. The Japanese internment in Canada and the U.S. is a blot upon the history of both nations.

  5. We agree on that. I didn't know Canada did that, too. Awful.