‘Sleeping on Potatoes is the metaphor for the bumpy and lumpy ride I had in my formative years,’ Dr. Carl Nomura explains in the preface to his debut publication Sleeping on Potatoes: A Lumpy Adventure from Manzanar to the Corporate Tower (Erasmus Books, Washington, 2003). Nomura then extends this metaphor into a vivified mosaic of his life’s experiences by bringing them to view through the eyes of a child and all the way up to a person with aspirations.
Starting informally with his mother Mizuko’s story, a Japanese woman who married Nomura’s father because ‘she heard that in America everyone was tall’, Dr. Nomura creates a series of true, non-fictional, real life stories that border on the line between short story and personal essay. Reliving in linguistic light the hardship of poverty, a heartless father, the humiliation of being forced to move into relocation centers during the Second World War, and the travails of disease and bereavement, Nomura throws his readers into a joyous shock with the amazing optimism of his attitude and his lively humor that arises spontaneously from the interaction of situation and language. One instance is from his school days: ‘we thought her name (Sister Perpetual) fitted her because she beat us perpetually’. Certainly not to overlook the fun of fishing and poker, and giving smoking up for good when an angry woman comes inches from your face and calls you a ‘polluting pig.’
Though a doctor of philosophy in Solid State Physics, and an important figure in the corporate world of technology, it is Nomura’s flair of seeing things as matter of course that lures one to appreciate his magnanimity. Not going a braggart, he opens a window to the philosophy of life-contentment, be it a doctorate in physics and excellence in management of small businesses, or using a bathroom 200 feet away from his bed in a trailer. Life is joy if you have your guts tuned to its frequency of vicissitudes.
Marking Sleeping on Potatoes as a book to amuse would be a reader’s pitfall. It is a book enormous in its scope, though not in its volume (250 pages). By no means is this the adventurous story of a single person, reflecting on his past. It is the story of many characters that endured and fought against social injustice and untoward circumstances-from women like Mizuko and Louise, to the sufferers in relocation centers, and the motherless litter of cats who were lucky enough to make it to Nomura’s house. His heart touching memories of Mox, the neighbor’s dog, harbor all the richness and beauty of life. Nomura traces the causes of discontent in marital life, discusses issues associated with terminal illness, and informs on linguistic and the cultural relativism of English and Japanese native speakers.
Now in his eighties, retired and coping with prostate cancer, Nomura’s lumpy ride has not come to a pause. It is bumping all along with new interest in learning and doing things and new ways of adding to the richness of his life. With his new wife, children and grandchildren, pets, garden, books, and the untamed freshness of mind, Dr. Carl Nomura lives as if he is immortal.