William Reese Hamilton takes his readers to The Philippines during World War II in his dramatic and true life inspired work Wonks. Based on his own time in an Japanese internment camp, Hamilton presents Johnny Oldfield, who refers to himself as a Wonk, and how upon being separated by his father learns life lessons from a variety of people in his life. The story takes place in Manila, which is being destroyed by bombings, artillery, and mortar attacks. Wonks examined a period of time in American history that is often forgotten, but is vitally important for people to remember.
Internment camps are an element of World War II that sporadically appear in the discussion of American society during this time, but I was surprised to learn that the Japanese also interned people during this same time. Hamilton and his family were captured and imprisoned by the Japanese for three full years during the war and this experience is what led him to create Wonks. The name for the book comes from a term his mother used for him that came from his older brother, who died prior to their internment. While Johnny is running about with his friends this is the term she uses to describe them since they are running about and getting dirty like the wild dogs. As a young boy he still takes part in fun moments of childhood, which includes playing marbles and getting into trouble, but there are also terrible moments that force him to confront the death and despair of war.
Through Johnny’s first person narrative readers experience not only a coming of age story, but also a historical discussion of what it was like to be in an internment camp. The details he provides emphasizes living conditions as well as the military elements both in and surrounding the camp. One of the elements that moves through the book is the idea of participating in sports. The boys are almost constantly involved in some sort of physical activity, whether it be football, softball, or boxing. As they take part in these sports the boys are able to build friendships and create a semblance of normalcy within the confines of the camp. Johnny’s narrative tone throughout the story helps to ease the reader into a number of more complex topics. While the character might be young, Hamilton has allowed him to speak with a touch of an adult tone that lends itself to the material well. Wonks is a well written work that shows childhood within the confines of war time. It also acts as a historical snapshot of what time was like during World War II for those in internment camps. You can get your copy of Wonks today.