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The Showgirl and the Writer: A Friendship Forged in the Aftermath of the Japanese American Incarceration

The Showgirl and the Writer, A Friendship Forged in the Aftermath of the Japanese American Incarceration, by Marnie Mueller, is a hybrid memoir/biography. It encompasses Mueller's own story, beginning at her birth to Caucasian parents in the Tule Lake Japanese American High-Security Camp in Northern California, and tells the tale of her long friendship with Mary Mon Toy, a Nisei performer who was incarcerated in the Minidoka Japanese American Camp in Idaho during WWII. The two met by chance in 1994. By then, Mueller was a published author, and Mary Mon Toy, by necessity of old age, had retired from an unusually successful career on stage and television, for an Asian American actor of her time. After Ms. Mon Toy's death, Mueller penned the previously untold story of Mon Toy's fierce determination to put the Incarceration behind and her precipitous rise as a working actor.


"The Showgirl and the Writer is an entrancing memoir, tangled up with a disgraceful piece of U.S. history,
and a portrait of a fascinating woman... I hung on every paragraph."

~ John Thorndike (Author, The World Against Her Skin)

Read the Full Review


"Marnie Mueller draws on her unique personal story as the daughter of WRA (War Relocation Authority) staffers to unravel the story of her close friend, Mary Mon Toy, a Nisei entertainer who hid in plain sight from the Japanese American community. Mysterious, moving, and heartfelt, The Showgirl and the Writer, expands our limited knowledge of Japanese American mainstream performing artists, the lingering effects of the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans, as well as the impact of that incarceration even on non-Japanese American families who tried to be allies." 

~ Brian Niiya, editor of the Densho Encyclopedia and Encyclopedia of Japanese-American History


It is an honor to be named a Finalist in the Non-Fiction Category of The Sarton Award by Story Circle Network. The awards are presented in six categories (memoir, historical fiction, contemporary fiction, nonfiction, young adult fiction, and middle-grade fiction). The award program is named in honor of May Sarton, who is remembered for her outstanding contributions to women's literature as a memoirist, novelist, and poet. Sarton memoirs, novels, and nonfiction books are distinguished by the compelling ways they honor the lives of women and girls and are limited to books published by independent authors and publishers.


Winners and finalists will be announced in April, 2024 on SCN platforms.



... an important addition to the history of US exclusion and mass incarceration of non-whites. It's also a great illustration of how the phenomenon of "passing" is not just a black or white issue. Coda: It turns out thousands of white, educated civilians worked in the US prison camps as administrators and teachers, often at above average wages.  She is the rare non-Japanese voice to bear witness to these places.  Thank you, Marnie!

~ Setsuko Sato Winchester, artist, historian, and former NPR editor, creator of the Freedom from Fear/Yellow Bowl Project


Marnie Mueller combines memoir and biography in this haunting story, which intertwines two lives scarred by the shameful history of the Japanese internment camps during World War II. Mary Mon Toy, the vivacious showgirl, has secrets that only Mueller, with her own deep connection to the same history, can slowly uncover—secrets that lead the writer to a new understanding of her own past.  A fascinating book and a brave one! 

~ Susan Quinn, author of Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady 



I was fascinated by this seamless combination of memoir, biography, and examination of the effects of racial and ethnic prejudice on two women. The author looks at her own experiences as a white woman born at the Tule Lake No-No Japanese internment camp in the context of her friendship with a Japanese-American "showgirl" who was sent to a camp. The interrogation of the similarities and differences of their experiences of anti-Asian racism and anti-Semitism are thought-provoking, both on a personal level and a political one. I mostly read fiction, but I found this book compelling; the ideas are still swirling around in my head. Highly recommended.

 ~ Ellen Meeropol, author of The Lost Women of Azalea Court


Combining a novelist's flair, a memoirist's reflections, and a biographer's research skills, Marnie Mueller gives us a fascinating story of the long, complicated friendship between two remarkable women. An illuminating take on a sometimes hidden but important corner of twentieth-century American history. 

~ Alix Kates Shulman, author of Memoirs of an Ex-prom Queen


In an account of uncommon depth, Marnie Mueller intertwines biography and memoir to fashion a compelling expose of the ugly history of U.S. incarceration of Japanese immigrants and Japanese-American citizens during World War II. As she uncovers the real life story of her friend Mary Mon Toy, a Nisei entertainer, she comes to terms with her own complicated life as well, in the process creating an engrossing, enlightening, enraging, and ultimately encouraging story that is worthy of the novelist that she is.

~ Sydney Ladensohn Stern, biographer, Gloria Steinem: Her Passions, Politics, and Mystique and The Brothers Mankiewicz: Hope, Heartbreak, and Hollywood Classics


This remarkable book is about showgirl Mary Mon Toy... and so much more. Using biography and autobiography  Marnie Mueller describes how a friendship was forged between her and Mon Toy out of the shared experience of living in a Japanese-American internment camp, a friendship during which  Mary's extraordinary secret is slowly revealed. The Showgirl and the Writer is a must-read about two of life's great issues,  the shaping of personal identity and the making of love and friendship. A compelling read and great choice for a book club.

 ~ Jill Norgren, author of Stories from Trailblazing Women Lawyers