Review: Naomi Hirahara Writes About Rich History and Shocking Crime | Entertainment

“Clark and Division” opens with a striking image of its narrator’s birth in the 1920s. Her older sister, Rose, 3, was so anxious to have the new baby that she slipped past the midwife trying to help with breech birth and, as “the first to see any part of my body, pulled my sticky foot.” good and hard.

Aki Ito, the narrator of Naomi Hirahara’s new historical novel, repays the devotion. The sisters are close to each other throughout their childhood in Tropico, a small town near Los Angeles. Their parents are Issei, immigrants from Japan; their father started out as a farmer and became the manager of a produce market in downtown LA

Their life is good, although there are shadows. When Aki is in eighth grade, she is invited to another girl’s birthday party and then uninvited in the middle of it because other girls’ hakujin (white) mothers don’t want her swimming in the pool. swimming pool with them. When Aki comes home in tears, Rose takes her back to the birthday girl and asks (and gets) an apology from the child’s mother. “Never let them think they’re better than you,” Rose said to Aki.

But in 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor turned their lives upside down. First, there are curfews on Japanese Americans, and they are required to turn over all radios and weapons to the government. White customers stop shopping at the Japanese market where Aki and Rose’s father works.

Then exclusion orders are issued. Japanese families in California must report for transfer to internment camps, bringing only what they can carry.

Aki drops out of college; Rose and their father quit their job. Their house and car were confiscated, and in March 1942 they moved into one of the 500 newly built barracks in Manzanar, near Death Valley.

Rose was the first in her family to adjust and play the politics of camp life, and a year later she was one of the first Nisei (Japanese of American descent) deemed “loyal” enough to quit. the camp. They are not allowed to return to California but are sent to “the Midwest or the East, anywhere that needed cheap labor to replace the men who had been sent to fight in the United States. foreigner “. Many young Nisei men join the army.

Rose sends her family postcards of Chicago landmarks as she settles in the city, finds a job, and searches for a place large enough for everyone, taking care of the paperwork for their transfer.

Aki and his parents are delighted to finally board the train for Chicago. But their joy turns to horror when they are greeted at the station not by Rose but by two friends from Manzanar.

Rose died, hit by a subway car the day before. Even blinded by grief, Aki cannot accept what the coroner tells her: that her sister’s death was “definitely a suicide”. Confident, independent, resilient Rose? Aki can’t imagine it, and her own efforts to remake her life in Chicago are paired with her willingness to find out what happened between Rose’s departure from the camp and her death.

Author Naomi Hirahara has written a few series of detective novels. She has published seven books about the Californian gardener-turned-detective Mas Arai, who, like Hiroshima’s parents, is a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing. Two of the books – “Snakeskin Shamisen” and “Hiroshima Boy” – won the Edgar Awards.

“Clark and Division”, named after a Chicago intersection in the neighborhood where many Japanese lived, is Hirahara’s first historical novel. It’s rich in well-researched details on everything from dress styles and relocation organizations to how ice was delivered to the “coolers” that predated refrigerators.

Aki is an endearing and complex character. At only 20 when she arrived in Chicago, she was naive in many ways and struggled with all kinds of adaptations – to new living quarters, a new job, new friends and, to her timid surprise, potential suitors.

But she is fierce in her quest for the truth about Rose, discovering that the Japanese community deals not only with prejudice but also predators who take advantage of the role of shame in this culture and the reluctance of marginalized people to approach the authorities. even when they are victimized.

“Clark and Division” is an impressive historical novel, but it is also sadly topical, as we see the old, baseless fanaticism reappearing again among the fearful and violent.


“Clark and Division”

By Naomi Hirahara

Soho Crime, 312 pages, $ 27.95


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