Seattle writer Leslie Helm has poured his considerable journalistic skills into writing “Yokohama Yankee”, a book you may like for one or more of the four reasons that I couldn’t put it down.
The first is that it’s a fascinating story of a German immigrant to Japan, Helms’ great-grandfather, who built a very large and successful cartage, stevedoring, warehousing, and forwarding business that prospered, with multiple ups and downs, for three-quarters of a century, until six years after the end of World War II.
The second is that the book provides insight and context into modern Japanese history, which began with the Meiji Restoration in 1868, one year before great-grandfather Julius arrived in the small, then-undeveloped port of Yokohama.
As the Helm family grew, prospered and expanded across Asia, so did the family business – linking Helm fortunes inextricably with those of a culturally, economically and militarily reborn Japan.
Third, Helm digs deeply into racial and cultural feelings, attitudes and ideas that are in one sense very familiar and in another very foreign to Americans – and probably to Japanese, too. Helms personalizes the feelings and ideas as only someone who has lived a multi-racial life can. It's a perspective not often found.
Fourth, the book is written so well. The journalistic simplicity of the narrative makes complex ideas and conflicting emotions understandable to any reader.
The deft use of words and expressions keeps the reader moving quickly through sentences and paragraphs. Probably because he’s written thousands of news stories and magazine features, Helm makes a very difficult skill look easy. Your writing will improve with the reading of this book.
The photography and illustrations, selected and displayed with the sure-eye of an experienced magazine editor, are a noteworthy bonus. The reader wants to know more about the people and places and things depicted – and its knowledge that the written narrative provides.
It’s a challenging book. You may not like some of it. But you won’t be sorry you read it.
Helm has accepted an invitation from Griffin Bay Bookstore to talk about his book and meet islanders on Saturday, Oct. 26, at 7 p.m. at the bookstore.
— Editor’s note: Steve Wehrly was introduced to journalism as an intern at Seattle Business magazine, where Leslie Helm is executive editor.