Historical Amnesia

Letting my book’s characters speak for me, I voice my dismay that human beings seem incapable of learning from past atrocities. I hope that The Last Shade Tree will make a dent in this seemingly willful amnesia.

Looking back, I see my high school history classes as one big maneuver to avoid presenting the ugly facts from our nation’s past. Perhaps my generation was shielded from harsh realities that later generations would hear about. Or suppressing the facts could have been the policy of my school district and many others all over the country. Education always seems to prefer nice-sounding myths about our country’s virtues and achievements over its blind spots and failures. When my heroine Aleta is forced to time-travel back to the week before Pearl Harbor, she witnesses first-hand the internment of Japanese American citizens: “Aleta frantically scoured her memory for what she’d learned in her high school history class [c. 1960], but she could not recall a word in her textbook about this human catastrophe.” 

When I started writing The Last Shade Tree, I had no idea where I was going. As the books began to stack up on my desk and my research intensified, I couldn’t believe that so many dreadful episodes had somehow been swept under the rug. And thus I came up with “historical amnesia,” the concept especially urgent today as our world lurches again toward exclusivity, racial hatred, totalitarianism, and, worst of all, nuclear war. Some of the book’s episodes have been in the public eye for a while, such as Japanese internment after Pearl Harbor and the Cherokee Trail of Tears. But what about Drancy, the Indian residential schools, or the Roma in Nazi camps? Add in the right-wing historical revisionists and the deniers, and let me say, we as a nation are in big trouble! 

Propelled through condensed time, principal character Aleta witnesses more than a century of genocidal history that is unfortunately not fantasy but inspired by real events. In despair, she says, “Those horrible places I went to in the past ... I thought none of it could ever happen again. I thought people had learned…. I know thousands will die because some people think they’re right and everyone else is wrong. And not just this time. It’s going to happen over and over.”

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