NVC Newsletter

Speaker Series: Mike Malaghan, Author of "Picture Bride"

by Wendi Coombs
February 2017, Volume 67, Issue 2

The January Speaker Series featured author Mike Malaghan.  He shared his journey as a writer to the culmination of his first novel, Picture Bride. Picture Bride is the initial book in a historical fiction trilogy honoring the Japanese Americans who fought during WWII.

Mike first envisioned a book about the 442nd.  With a compilation of biographies in front of him, Mike began rethinking the focus of this book, wondering about the roots of these fine Japanese American men who made up the 442nd and 100th Battalion. Thus the birth of Picture Bride.  Unlike most novels written about the Japanese American experience, Mike takes the reader back to Japan focusing on the lives of Japanese before and as they migrated to Hawaii.

Although a writer at heart, Mike spent a lifetime in the corporate world, living on four continents and traveling to 200 countries and territories, starting in Africa while working for the Peace Corps.  A visit to Sandakan’s Japanese Cemetery Park in Borneo played a pivotal role in the inception of this book. While visiting the cemetery,  Mike and his wife, Tomoko, were intrigued by the many gravesites of young Japanese women who had been sold into servitude and prostitution by impoverished families. These women were known as karayuki-san.

Years later, the first setting of the novel and the main character, Haru, took shape when Mike and Tomoko toured Amakusa.   The islands of Amakusa provided the perfect background for the introduction of a thirteen-year-old Haru.  Her fate of karayuki-san was determined when she was born into a peasant family.  During the lecture, Mike flashes a picture of himself standing on the Guillan Bridge.  He ponders, “What if there is a thirteen-year-old girl instead of me on this bridge?”  What would have happened if just one (Haru) of those women escaped?”

Mike, a history buff, takes the audience through significant historical events with the story of Haru, each time, leaving the audience hanging to find out more.  Mike’s comprehensive research and understanding of Japanese American history in Hawaii from the early part of the 1900’s through the war gives a rich background to the fictional story of Haru. 

Quick to acknowledge the many people who have helped shape his understanding of history on the Hawaiian Islands, Mike draws on the interactions and friendships he has developed with different individuals including Kats Miho, Sus Ito, Reverend Takie Okumura and Bishop Yemyo. Mike is especially indebted to his meeting with Sue Isonaga. Sue was an au pair for Robert Shivers, FBI special agent to Hawaii.  Some speculate the fondness and admiration Shivers and his wife had for Sue, was an influencing factor when Shivers voiced strong disagreement to the incarceration of people with Japanese ancestry living in Hawaii.

Mike has finished writing two-thirds of the second book in this trilogy.  A Question of Loyalty, will center on the story of Haru’s sons, who fight for the US during the war. 

We wonder: How can a young woman who sees the emperor and thinks “Someday I will have sons ready to die for the emperor” raise children loyal to the United States of America?  By the end of his talk, Mike had left the audience curious about the history of the Japanese Americans in Hawaii and definitely eager to read about the plight of Haru and her family.