“We don’t know much about Mr. Otomatsu Wada of Unit B in Barrack 14 in Block 63 of the Gila River Relocation Center,” Eric L. Muller admits at the start of his essay, “The Desert Was His Home.” This lack of knowledge does not deter Muller from examining the pain and power of absence, as well as how deep research becomes an avenue for creative discovery.
Throughout this essay, Muller lays out the facts about this one Japanese-American, among many, held prisoner in the U.S. during World War II. Muller uses what little is known of this man to sketch out a rough but potent portrait of his life. Most notable was Wada’s “two-year-old mystery” marked by the refrain “We don’t know” that Muller uses until Wada’s fate is revealed.
This essay demonstrates how seamlessly and naturally a story can incorporate the many don’t knows and can’t knows inevitable in research. It is even possible, as “The Desert” shows us, how the gaps in a subject’s life can become the story. This piece can be found in Issue 74 of Creative Nonfiction.
“The Desert Was His Home” by Eric L. Muller. Creative Nonfiction, Winter 2021.
Reviewer bio: Mark Smeltzer is a graduate student in Utah State University’s English Department. His area of specialization is in poetry.