In one word: Divided
Cannonball Read Bingo: New
I hadn’t heard of the October pick for my public library book club but as soon as my eyes peered upon the cover my expectations jumped up a notch because Mr. Sulu himself, George Takei, had good things to say about it. Known predominantly for his work on Star Trek, we also admire him in my house for his acclaimed graphic novel “They Called Us Enemy” which details his experiences as a prisoner in one of the American concentration camps in WWII. Hirahara’s novel is in the same vein as she follows a family after they are freed from just such a camp and forced to abandon their home and all they know in California to relocate to Chicago. The eldest sister goes ahead first to pave the way, but when the rest of the family arrives she has vanished. Her family is grief-stricken as they try to make a new way ahead, but her younger sister is determined to find out what happened, no matter the cost.
This book is a new endeavor for the author as it is Hirahara’s first historical fiction, having previously published non-fiction accounts and mysteries. In this novel, she is trying to do a bit of all three, and she has unfortunately spread herself too thin. Both the motivations of the characters and the attention of the author seem divided, veering toward farfetched. Hirahara goes the Sherlock Holmes route, not that she has a plucky and rude investigator, but that she holds back key details and characters so that an interested reader isn’t able to follow or predict the action of the mystery. In the end, her twists were so twisty as to be a bit unbelievable.
The setting and historical context were especially interesting to me as I now live in a suburb of Chicago. Some of the members of my library book club lived in the city during this time period (as young girls) and were surprised to know there was such a large influx of Japanese people as for obvious reasons, they kept to themselves. Though ratings of the book club members were a little mixed, the overall consensus was that this book is a good bit of historical fiction, but only a so-so mystery. If you are looking to have a greater understanding of this period in American history, this is a well-told family torn apart by the bigotry and hatred toward Japanese Americans during and post World War II.