The Fervor by Alma Katsu

Cover of The Fervor with a red sash behind it.

I planned on reading this as soon as I got it, since I really enjoy Katsu’s books, but I figured it would be a while before I got the review up.  I recently did my review of The Hunger and I still have a few more books lined up that I read over the past couple of months.  But I started reading The Fervor on Thursday and then the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe dropped on Friday.  By the time I finished The Fervor over the weekend, it seemed like this was the review to do for this week.

The Fervor takes place across several locations across the Northwest U.S. in 1944, including one of the internment camps where the U.S. imprisoned all Japanese and Japanese-American residents of the West Coast. This was based on the pretext that there may have been spies and fifth columnists hiding in the population.  It was, if you’ll excuse the academic jargon, bullshit. 

The government had no evidence of “disloyalty” when Franklin Roosevelt signed the executive order, they didn’t find any evidence throughout the course of the war, and no evidence emerged afterwards.  The push to round up and get rid of population stemmed from good ol’ American racism.  Whites in the west had their eyes on Japanese/Japanese-American-owned farms, land, and businesses and wanted everyone of Japanese descent out of there.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 halted any immigration from China, but the anti-Japanese movement had been unable to get a similar Japanese Exclusion Act to pass. They got around that with the 1924 Immigration Act, which barred immigration of people belonging to a nationality prohibited from becoming a naturalized citizen. Since American immigration laws dating back to George Washington barred anyone deemed “not white” from becoming naturalized citizens, that effectively excluded Japanese immigrants. Still, it didn’t do anything to get rid of those of Japanese descent who were already in the country or provide a way for white Americans to take their land. The hysteria after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, however, did.   

Anyway, back to The Fervor.  (I would like credit, though, for not continuing to write out my lectures on race, immigration, and internment – once a history professor, always a history professor.) We’re initially introduced to Archie and his wife, Elsie.  Archie is a white pastor in a small town in Oregon who seems to have an ideal life – beautiful wife, baby on the way, a good job, a good home, heading up to the mountains for vacation. Yet his past haunts him and a vision of woman in a red kimono suggests it may be catching up with him… 

Meanwhile, at Camp Minidoka in a remote part of Idaho, Meiko Briggs worries about her daughter, Aiko, while walking her to the internment camp’s school.  Aiko is a bit of an outcast among the other children – she’s half white (her father is a U.S. fighter pilot in the Pacific) and on top of that, Aiko is a very talented artist who draws many of the ghosts, spirits, and demons of Japanese folklore, whom she sees in the camp.  Meiko is concerned about all of this and about how growing up in a prison camp is going to affect Aiko. The more immediate threat, however, is a strange disease burning through the camp, turning formerly peaceful people into violent murderers. And now there are more American officials turning up, strange trucks, and disappearances…

Finally, out in Nebraska, reporter Fran Gurstwold witnesses a mysterious explosion in the night sky while at a remote cabin with her editor, with whom she is having an affair.  They walk through the darkness and discover thin sheets of a papery substance, which she at least is smart enough not to touch barehanded.  Her journalist instincts are telling her she’s on to a big story, one that might pull her out of the usual “women’s news.” Despite her increasingly agitated editor’s admonishments, she starts hunting for clues, tips, and connections to other mysterious flashes, leading her out of Nebraska and towards Oregon and Idaho…

As I’ve mentioned previously, I really enjoy Katsu’s writing.  The Fervor is a bit different from her other two books.  While there is still a spiritual/otherworldly element to this tale, it is much more grounded in reality.  Katsu’s in-laws were interned at Minidoka during the war and she draws on their experiences, as well as her own background and family history.  The illness aspect also ties closely to the rise of racist attacks against Asian-Americans due to Covid and false, racist claims regarding China.  While the demons Aiko sees create all sorts of fear, the real horror is watching how easily people can succumb to their worst instincts, while seeing themselves as heroes.  Even when people know what they’re seeing and doing is wrong, it is so easy to slip into justifications and rationalizations. 

The story of internment is also a reminder of how fragile many of our basic rights are, a lesson those who had the privilege to forget are learning again. Most of those interned, like Aiko, were American citizens, born and raised in the United States. They had basic constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure, unlawful detainment, etc. When Fred Korematus challenged his imprisonment, the Supreme Court ruled in Korematsu vs. United States that military strategic concerns were enough to justify stripping Americans of their rights.  The Court claimed it was not based on racial prejudice, even though it only applied to Japanese and Japanese-Americans on the West Coast (where racial bias against Asians was highest) and there was no similar action against German or Italian Americans. 

But The Fervor also reminds us that individuals can still make a difference. It’s hard not to feel completely overwhelmed at times or that there’s no way one person can make any kind of difference. And yet it’s still imperative to try. 

So overall, The Fervor is another great work of weaving historical fact with otherworldly tones like The Hunger and The Deep.  Though the otherworldly aspect is a bit less in this book, the horrifying nature of the reality keeps you wondering who will survive and how, and maybe get you thinking about what you would do in a similar situation.

Find it online here


Nothing major, just something funny I wanted to share- I don’t think it will totally destroy the book for you, but it might and I don’t want to risk anyone being upset because they wanted to make connections for themselves and now I’m just rambling in a very long, run-on sentence that is going to kill my “readability” statistics, which already don’t like me because I am too verbose and use too many words and don’t use any headers, but I think you, the reader, can handle it, and is this long enough now for you to have backed out if you decided you didn’t want any kind of potential, possible, hint of a spoiler? Also, this probably will make more sense once you’ve actually read the book, so maybe go read it first and then come back for this last line, unless you’ve already read it, in which case, proceed.

Last chance.

Ok, anyway, I finished reading this book and went running two days later, where I ended up running face first into a spider web. Then two days after that, I got sick. Hmmmm….

Book Review: Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko

Cover of the book Almanac of the Dead on a table with a white background and pottery behind it.

You should read this book. 

I’m starting with that, because in a minute, I’m going to start listing all the things that make this a difficult book to read and it may sound like I’m encouraging you to ignore it.  I am most definitely not.  But you should be prepared for what you’re getting. 

First and foremost, it’s almost impossible to find a traditional “good guy,” despite the seemingly endless list of characters you meet.  Silko is putting all of humanity’s worst traits on display.  I don’t know if I can even remember all of the potential trigger/content warnings that should be included, but for starters, there’s sexual assault/violence, physical abuse, emotional abuse, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, suicide, sadism, torture, and so on.  In short, this book is an indictment.  Specifically, it is an indictment of 500 years of European/European American colonialism and genocide and the unwillingness of society to recognize those crimes and address their fallout.  As such, those sins continue to rot and fester and spread to everyone.  (Have I sold you on this book yet?)

The overarching story is the efforts of a wide range of Native American characters to fight back against the injustices of a history of Euro-American conquest and those that stand in their way.  The list of characters is, in a word, long, so I won’t even try to go through each of them.  The book is divided into different parts, each introduced tied to a specific geography. Within each, a few chapters are dedicated to one set of characters, which then rolls into a completely different set, which in turn moves to a different location and a different group of people.  But everything cycles back together.  There are sets of twins who each have their own part to play in the fight to retake the lands stolen from them.  Elderly twin sisters Lecha and Zeta serve as an anchor.  From their estate in the Tucson area, they have returned to work on the titular Almanac of the Dead, a collection of pages passed down through generations, marking their history of their tribe (namely the Yaqui), surviving the death and destruction that literally chased the first carriers of these words.  Enduring the ravages of time and the attacks on memory, the book survives, edited and annotated and added to by new guardians until finally it is time for the twins to put it all together.  Living with them are Lecha’s grown son Ferro, a drug runner whom she left when he was a baby for her sister to raise; Sterling, a Laguna Indian who was exiled from his tribe and who is fascinated by Tucson’s gangster history and the story of Geronimo; Seese, a White, drug-addicted woman whose infant son was kidnapped and who hopes that Lecha’s psychic abilities will help her find him; and Paulie, who raises the guard dogs and is one of Ferror’s lovers.  And that’s just one group.  There are flashbacks and side stories and parentheticals, but like the tributaries of a river, the waters eventually all rejoin to flow to the sea.

Silko does a superb job of erasing the artificial boundaries erected between countries.  The border between the U.S. and Mexico matters only inasmuch characters have to deal with the hassle of border guards, but it is very clear that this means nothing to the descendants of those who freely lived in these areas and who had no say in the drawing of lines on maps.  The land itself is an essential part of the stories, and how people treat the land tells us something about them as well. There were several passages I saved because something caught my eye, such as this, where one of the characters we meet in Mexico recalls his Indian grandfather:

“The old man had been interested in what the Europeans thought and the names they had for the planets and stars. He thought the stories accounting for the sun and the planets were interesting only because their stories of explosions and flying fragments were consistent with everything else he had seen: from their flimsy attachments to each other and their children to their abandonment of the land where they had been born. He thought about what the ancestors had called Europeans: their God had created them but soon was furious with them, throwing them out of their birthplace, driving them away. The ancestors had called Europeans ‘the orphan people’ and had noted that as with orphans taken in by selfish or coldhearted clanspeople, few Europeans had remained whole. They failed to recognize the earth was their mother. Europeans were like their first parents, Adam and Eve, wandering aimlessly because the insane God who had sired them had abandoned them.”

Through it all, Silko reminds of historical events (the Haitian Revolution, the Mexican Emperor Maximilian and his wife Charlotte, the dirty wars of the Cold War era, etc.), the prophecies of various indigenous peoples, observations of Europeans and their descendants, and more.  This grand scope storytelling is expertly interwoven with the deeply personal and individual stories of each character, and reminds us of the cyclical nature of life and history.  Buried deep within this exposé of darkness and evil and rot is a note of hope, that eventually history will right itself.  The question is how much suffering must happen before then. 

This was a hard review to write and I don’t feel like I’ve done it justice.  There’s so much to discuss, but no simple way to do so.  I’ve seen academic articles and dissertations devoted exclusively to this book, and that seems about the level of writing I’d have to do if I wanted to fully break this down.  Published in 1992, it resonates today as we slowly, slowly, slowly and haltingly start trying to address our past.  Changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day is only a micro baby step.  To really engage and reckon with our history, our present, and our future, it’ll be uncomfortable.  There’s anger.  And while there’s a vocal segment of society that feels like anything that makes (white) people uncomfortable should be banned, ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.  To quote from the source: “History would catch up with the white man whether the Indians did anything or not.  History was the sacred text.  The most complete history was the most powerful force.”

You should read this book.

Have you read The Almanac of the Dead? What did you think of it? Did you struggle to get through it? Did it stick with you afterwards? Share your views in the comments!

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