Cockrell presents new book to crowd at Weiser Library

Adrian, Ore. native and author Elaine Cockrell drew a standing room only crowd at the Weiser Library on Friday, Nov. 11 for a presentation of her book “A Shrug of the Shoulders.”
 The event was jointly hosted by the library and Nicole Sharp, owner of Literary Paws bookstore in downtown Weiser.
 Cockrell’s book weaves a fictional story based on actual events surrounding the Japanese internment camps of the western United States during World War II. 
 She also gave a brief history of how a people that lost everything rebuilt their lives in eastern Oregon.
 “We wanted to make sure that we did everything we could to help get this book out and that people read it; but mostly we were really worried about the history of our area and the people of our area going away,” said Weiser Librarian  Timbra Long. “If we don’t talk about it, share our stories, it’s going to go away and at some point, someone is going to say, ‘Surely that never happened.’”
 Cockrell, who lives in Washington state with husband Bud, was inspired to write the book after helping her grandmother pen a family memoir.
 “I found out that during World War II, they hired Japanese-Americans to work on their beet fields,” said Cockrell of her grandparents who homesteaded near Adrian, Ore. in the 1930s and 40s. “I had Japanese friends growing up, and in college, but I was ignorant about how they came to Oregon. My grandmother’s story piqued my interest and I thought about it for years and years. I wanted to tell the story of what it was like in eastern Oregon when the Japanese came to make their lives there. Their stories were quite painful to them.”
 Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans across the nation huddled around radios as President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared before Congress that Dec. 7, 1941 would be “a day that will live in infamy.”
 The event hurled the “sleeping giant” into World War II and triggered Executive Order 9066, which led to the relocation of over 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry to internment camps located throughout the western United States.
 “I am for immediate removal of every Japanese on the West Coast to a point deep in the interior; and I don’t mean a nice part of the interior either,” wrote Henry McLemore of the San Francisco Journal on Jan. 29, 1942. “Herd ‘em up, pack ‘em off, and give ‘em the inside room in the badlands. Let ‘em be pinched, hungry, and dead up against it.”
 In her book, Cockrell guides readers on a journey with families that were taken from their homes in central Washington and sent to an “assembly center” in Portland, Ore. About 1,600 then made their way to Malheur County in eastern Oregon to work on the sugar beet farms, living in an “experimental” labor camp that turned out to be a bit more amenable than the typical camps of the time. Unlike other areas of the west, the Japanese were more accepted in eastern Oregon, but life was still difficult, some who remain from that era hesitant to talk about their experiences. 
 “The story was really good, but the part I enjoyed most was that it helped me learn about the internment camps and the structure,” Sharp said of Cockrell’s book. “We didn’t really learn that in school; they really didn’t talk about the whole system and how they lost everything. They didn’t talk about that. The whole process of putting this cultural night together was enlightening and it helped me understand how they felt because I really didn’t understand what they went through.”
 Today, there is still a population of Japanese-Americans living in Oregon and Idaho, including in Annex (Ore.) and in Weiser. 
 Cockrell’s story is one of loss, pain, new beginnings, and love set in the actual area where so many stories played out in real life.
 “Elaine Cockrell’s novel ‘A Shrug of the Shoulders’ does readers a service by rendering in dramatic terms the era of Japanese-American relocation that unfolded during World War II. I’m glad to see it in print, because it serves as a reminder of this period in our history and therefore increases the odds that we will not allow ourselves again, as a nation, to act on prejudice” – David Guterson, PEN/Faulkner Award-winning author of “Snow Falling on Cedars.”
 Copies of the book can be purchased at Literary Paws, located at 322 State St. in Weiser. You can also read reviews and order the book by visiting Visit to watch a sit-down interview conducted by author Alan Rose. You can also contact Elaine at


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