Alden M. Hayashi’s novel “Two Nails, One Love” debuts
Lee A. Tonouchi
Special to Da Hawai‘i Herald
In 2013 Alden M. Hayashi’s mom wen pass away. He says wuz her passing that “finally got me off my butt to finish this book. I was hellbent on ensuring that her story wouldn’t die with her.” Though one work of fiction his debut novel draws from much of his real life family history. Even though he mostly been living in Boston for da past 40 years, Alden is still jus one Kalihi boy at heart. Born to Nobuo Hayashi and Mary (Yamane) Hayashi, Alden wuz da youngest of four boys; with chree older bruddahs, Randall, David and Ralph, all good in sports, Alden still get fond memories of his Dole Intermediate School band director Ralph Oshiro who helped him gain self confidence through playing music. After spending decades writing news stories on top da continent, Alden penned his first work of fiction in 2021. “Two Nails, One Love” (Black Rose Writing, $17.95) stay one novel about secrets. Da son who hides da fact that he’s gay. And da mom who has never spoken about all da traumatic kine tings that wen happen to her during World War II.
LT: Internet searches nevah reveal wea you wuz from. So wuz funny cuz da first time I contacted you and asked if you wuz from Hawai‘i, you nevah just tell what high school you went, you went supa-far back. You said “I went to Kānewai Elementary, Dole Intermediate and McKinley High School, ‘77 grad!” You always name all your Local schools or you just wanted for impress me?
AH: (Laughing) I wanted to impress you! Eh, das why I shame little bit, yeah, Lee, cuz I can’t write Pidgin. I don’t know exactly how to write it, but when I’m with my brothers, it’s full on Kalihi Pidgin. So I wanted you to know that I’m [a] very Local boy!
LT: You stay more well known for your work as one editor and writer at Scientific American and da Harvard Business Review. You like writing fiction or non-fiction mo’ bettah?
AH: Fiction. I’ve been writing non-fiction all my career. And I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it. But was it that satisfying? Recently I’m starting to do some short stories about growing up being Sansei. And that to me is so fulfilling. A lot of Sansei don’t write and Nisei didn’t write. There just hasn’t been that much written about [the internment camp experience] that should have been written. There’s this silence after the war and it’s such an important part of U.S. history where a lot of it has just not been covered.
LT: You can try explain your title to somebody who nevah read your book.
AH: It comes from the Japanese saying, Deru kugi wa utareru, the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. In this book both the narrator and his mother are nails that have stuck up, but they don’t realize it and that’s why they’ve butted heads a lot. It’s only at the end of the book that both mother and son realize that they are more alike than they really have thought.
LT: You can try talk little bit about what happen to your mom in real life during World War II?
AH: My mother’s family, they were somewhat prominent. My grandfather was a wealthy businessman so he got rounded up soon after Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was sent to Sand Island. From there my grandfather was sent to a series of different army camps and eventually ended up at a DOJ facility prison in Santa Fe where a lot of the Issei were imprisoned for awhile.
My mother’s family was told if you go to a camp on the mainland we can get you reunited. So they ended up in a camp in Arkansas. Then the U.S. government kind of moved the goal post and said if you agree to be sent to Japan then your family can be reunited that way. This was part of a really dirty deal. So there were two civilian exchanges during World War II between U.S. citizens who were stuck in Japan, China and elsewhere when the war broke out and Japanese nationals who were stuck in the U.S.
The first exchange was on the up and up. The problem came with the second exchange because there were a lot more U.S. citizens who were stuck in Asia or parts of Asia that Japan controlled. There were a lot more of them than there were Japanese nationals who were stuck in the U.S. who wanted to return to Japan. So at some point the decision was made, well, let’s throw in Issei because they’re enemy aliens and if we can get their families too then we can increase the body count. Because the arrangement was it had to be a one-for-one exchange.
LT: Prior to reading your book, I nevah know da U.S. government deported Japanese Americans. So that fo’ really happened?!
AH: Lee, a lot of historians don’t know it. I had told a friend about that here in Boston. He had told his friend who is a Harvard professor, a historian there, who hadn’t heard so was a little skeptical about it. So my friend came back to me and I said, “No, no, no. Trust me, it happened because this is the kind of thing my mother would not lie about. If anything she would lie and say it didn’t happen!” (Laughing). And actually I found somebody at the University of Kansas who did his Ph.D. dissertation on the exchange. Yeah, so even historians don’t know that it happened.
LT: So much of what wen happen in da book, wen happen in real life to your family. How come you nevah just write dis as straight up non-fiction?
AH: I do have gaps in my knowledge. I tried to get records of my grandfather being interrogated in Santa Fe and how he “agreed” to be sent to Japan. They said if they did have records it would have been destroyed in the late 1970s. My only recourse was to sue the Department of Justice but that would’ve taken some time and I wanted to write this story. I’m now 64, and I started writing this in my 50s. I didn’t want this to keep on dragging on. I wanted this on paper. Another huge problem is [that] my mother’s family is so complicated. They have 10 kids. One of her brothers was stuck in Japan when he died. Another brother fought in the 100th [Infantry] Battalion. I wanted to simplify things to get to the core of what I wanted to say. I joke with friends, to really capture the complexity of my mother’s whole family I would have to be a Russian novelist. And I could’ve done it, but it would’ve been an 800-page book … that nobody would read. (Laughing).
LT: Because your novel get one gay protagonist, people might classify you as one gay writer. In fact dis interview wuz supposed to come out earlier, but dey decided for hold ‘em and put ‘em inside da special Pride-themed issue. You feel das limiting, like would you raddah just be thought of as one writer? Or you like being grouped li’dat cuz you feel solidarity?
AH: It’s a tough one. In my 20s I felt very much I was a gay man who happened to be Asian American or Japanese American. I think it’s because when I was coming out, it was kind of during the worst of the AIDS epidemic. And I think I felt so threatened as a gay man so that was my identity. I [worried] I was gonna be attacked or “fag bashed.” I felt that vulnerability. But now I feel very much a Japanese American man who happens to be gay. I think part of it, Lee, is because on the mainland there was kind of this growing anti-Asian sentiment and you hear these stories about these elderly Asian men and women being attacked. In the past five years or so I felt it was more likely If I were to get attacked it would because I’m Asian American versus being gay. So I guess I prefer if you’re gonna have to put the novel in a category, I’d rather it be as a Japanese American or Asian American work because that’s how I feel now.
LT: Uh, if it makes you feel bettah, Hawai‘i Herald stay Hawai‘i’s Japanese American newspapah so you kinda already being grouped that way too.
AH: (Laughing) Good!
LT: Where people can get your novel at?
AH: My book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but I’d highly recommend da Shop, an independent bookstore in Kaimukī. I was thrilled when I learned that my novel was available there!
Lee A. Tonouchi stay da recipient of da 2023 American Association for Applied Linguistics Distinguished Public Service Award for his work in raising public awareness of important language-related issues and promoting linguistic social justice.