BINGO!!!! Bingo tile: monster; the first big monster is the internment of Japanese and Japanese Americans from (primarily) the West Coast and the subsequent theft of their property by white Americans; the second monster would spoil the mystery, but is monstrous!
In Clark and Division, Naomi Hirahara crafts a mildly diverting mystery and, more compellingly, a moving portrait of the tremendous challenges facing Japanese and Japanese Americans post-Pearl Harbor. Aki Ito, her parents, and her older sister, Rose, are forcibly interned in Manzanar after Pearl Harbor. Manzanar, for those who are unaware, was located in the Owens Valley of California, a desert region where temperatures ranged from over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during summer days to 0 degrees Fahrenheit during winter nights. Water in the region had been diverted, via the Los Angeles aqueduct, to provide for the city of Los Angeles, so the region was nigh on uninhabitable. Over 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans, primarily fisherfolk and farmers, were relocated to one of 10 camps, and over 11,000 were housed at Manzanar during this terrible period.
The Ito’s life at Manzanar is a short part of the book, but the trauma has a lasting effect on the family. Rose is deemed not-a-threat and is transferred to Chicago and moves to the Clark and Division neighborhood of Chicago, where many Japanese and Japanese Americans were relocated (you’ll note, far from their homes on the West Coast). The rest of the family follow later, only to discover that Rose was killed by a subway train shortly before their arrival. Her death is ruled a suicide, though Aki refuses to accept that finding. Thus, the detective work begins. More successfully, Hirahara provides an engaging account of the day-to-day lives of the Japanese and Japanese Americans who have to pick up the pieces of their lives after suffering horrifying trauma and losing everything.
There is a lot in this book, and it suffers for it. The history is well-researched and really compelling, but the story is less successful because the characters tended to be thinly sketched. There were several characters that I would have liked to have developed more; Rose, for example, seemed like an incredibly compelling character, but she is mostly a mechanism for Aki’s action and political growth. Despite the frustrating storytelling, I think this is a good overview of how Japanese and Japanese Americans were betrayed by their country, had their land and possessions stolen, and then had to craft a new life in a new place while experiencing trauma, racism, and poverty.
This book probably averages out to a 3.5, but I really like a good story so I rounded down this time.