Dedicated to Ko, Riku, and Woody Wakatsuki, A Farewell to Manzanar opens with a straightforward statement of purpose: speaking for herself and her husband, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, intent on publicizing a racial injustice after twenty-five years of repression, links the event with concentration camps in Poland and Siberia, then contrasts these lethal hellholes with the semi-civilized, city-like atmosphere of Manzanar, with its high school yearbook, judo pavilion, and barracks. Even with these amenities and activities, however, the specter of incarceration remains in guard towers which dot the perimeter. The Houstons' objectivity sets a detached tone in the two-page chronology, which covers the Japanese experience in America from 1869, when immigrants first settled the California mainland. The list continues in time order through internment, release, end of World War II, and passage of the naturalization law in 1952. The authors define three crucial terms:
- Issei [ee' say] people like Ko and Granny, who immigrate from Japan to the U.S.
- Nisei [nee' say] children like Jeanne Wakatsuki and her siblings, who are born in the U.S. to Issei parents
- Sansei [san' say] the third generation of Japanese Americans like the Wakatsuki grandchildren, who were born during and after World War II, some delivered in the Manzanar hospital.
This clarification introduces a crucial theme: the varied points of view and responses of Japanese Americans, depending upon where and when they were born and their connection with Japan, its language, religion, and traditions.
Almost like a coda, the quotation by American historian and educator Henry Steele Commager emphasizes the futility and waste of Executive Order 9066 by noting that no one uncovered "a single case of Japanese disloyalty or sabotage during the whole war." On a more personal note, the quotation of Thich Nhat Hanh's lyric verse links Jeanne's experience with all people who locate their place in history.