March 25, 2011
Yamamoto, the author of "Seventeen Syllables and Other Stories," was 89 when she died at home in Eagle Rock Jan. 30. After her death, Elaine Woo wrote: Yamamoto was 20 when the attack sent the United States into war and her family into a (block 22-1-C) Poston, Ariz., internment camp. Her most celebrated stories, such as "Seventeen Syllables" and "The Legend of Miss Sasagawara," reflect the preoccupations and tensions of the Japanese immigrants and offspring who survived that era. Among her most powerful characters are women who struggle to nurture their romantic or creative selves despite the constraints of gender, racism and tradition....
A private, somewhat taciturn woman with a wry outlook, Yamamoto began writing in the 1930s and published her earliest stories in such prestigious journals as Partisan Review as well as in anthologies, including "The Best American Short Stories of 1952." But she did not receive serious critical attention until the 1970s, when Asian American scholars began to study her work....
Her breakthrough came with the 1948 publication in Partisan Review of "The High-Heeled Shoes, a Memoir," a shockingly contemporary story about sexual harassment. She weaved intercultural conflicts and bonds into "Seventeen Syllables" (1949), in which a nisei girl's blooming romance with a Mexican American classmate offers an achingly innocent counterpoint to her issei mother's arranged marriage. "Wilshire Bus" (1950) explores a Japanese American woman's silence during a white man's racist harangue against a Chinese couple on the bus they are riding.