Wednesday, September 4, 2013

by Leslie Helm

In 1869, Julius Helm left Germany for the United States. It didn't really do anything for him so he went to Yokohama. He founded Helm Brothers which became the largest foreign-owned stevedoring company in Japan. It would remain in the family for seventy-three years.
Julius married a Japanese woman named Hiro and they had seven children. They did quite a bit of traveling and when they went to the United States for a brief time, Leslie Helm's paternal grandfather was born. Julie was now an American and this would become a problem during the events of Pearl Harbor: Japan and Germany were allies against the United States.
Julie's son, Donald, would run the firm but he was conflicted about his heritage. He never seemed comfortable with his Japanese blood even though after divorcing his first wife who was German, his second wife was Japanese.
Leslie inherited these conflicts. He was born in Japan but was an American citizen. Bilingual in both languages, he was never sure about his identity. When he became a correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, his reporting from Tokyo was very critical and disdaining. That is when he decided to explore his family's history. When Leslie and his American wife decided to adopt two Japanese children, it became a huge learning experience and his identity was challenged again.
Yokohama Yankee is a marvelous story. It's really interesting reading about Japan in the nineteenth century and that's a country where not much has been written about lately. Numerous photographs of the family and gorgeous, finely-detailed illustrations (from saved postcards) compliment the tale.
The book is very well-written and is a great read.
Highly recommended.