An immigrant’s story

The cover of Barbara Anne King's new novel. (Contributed)

New historical novel set in Watsonville

WATSONVILLE—Author Barbara Anne King was in the midst of writing another book when she got the idea for “The California Immigrant.”

Born and raised in Watsonville, King was researching her hometown when she came across bits of history she had never known.

“I was falling down the internet ‘rabbit hole’ of information,” King said. “I kept finding all of this stuff that, despite growing up in Watsonville, I hadn’t heard before.”

King was inspired to write a book set during World War II. In particular, she wanted to tell the story of the immigrant experience. King’s own grandparents on her father’s side immigrated from Croatia to the U.S.

“The California Immigrant” follows the story of a young Yugoslavian immigrant named Martin Petrovich, who comes to live in Watsonville—a small farming town with a diverse community; Mexicans, Croatians, Japanese all lived and worked together.

But after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, things changed fast—and Martin finds himself at a crossroads when his Japanese friend is facing imprisonment.

King said that growing up, she had to learn from a school friend about the internment of Japanese-Americans in 1942.

“A friend of mine pointed to an old photo on the wall and said, ‘My parents were interned,’” King said. “I had no idea what she was talking about. When I learned—I just couldn’t believe I didn’t know.”

For “The California Immigrant,” King dove deep into Watsonville’s role in World War II. Despite now living in Connecticut, she often visits Watsonville to see family and friends, and on trips she would meet with local historians and dive through library archives.

King discovered facts such as the Watsonville Municipal Airport being used by the U.S. Navy during the war. She learned of the cherry blossom trees that were gifted to the town from Japan (many of which were eventually cut down). She found out that Japanese, Italians and Germans were at one point not allowed to go west of Highway 1.

“I was shocked by a lot of what I read,” King admitted.

The extensive research King did for “The California Immigrant” led her to write her story around the historical events.

“It was a lot of improvisation,” she said. “I had a timeline of events and let it build on that. And I think the book ended up richer for it.”

Since her writing is published independently, King has been working hard to promote “The California Immigrant,” focusing initially on Watsonville-area readers and local ethnic organizations.

“There is now a lot more support for independent authors,” King said, “but it’s still a challenge to market this way. So it’s good to have a few natural niches.”

King will be at Kelly’s Books on Saturday for a discussion of “The California Immigrant.” King will meet with readers, lead a discussion and sign copies of her book.

“I hope the story gives residents here a bit more insight into their town, and be proud of its rich history,” King said.

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Barbara Anne King will be at Kelly’s Books on Saturday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Kelly’s Books is located at 1838 Main St., Watsonville. For information call 728-4139.

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