Book Review: Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara

Clark and Division
Naomi Hirahara

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I was interested in reading this crime fiction about the Itos, a Japanese American family that was sent to the Manzanar internment camp in 1942, after the Pearl Harbor bombings. Manzanar was one of ten American concentration camps, where more than 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II, a shameful period of American history. While at Manzanar, the Itos and others lived in cramped barracks surrounded by barbed wire and wondered what they had done to be treated this way.

Source: Wikipedia

In 1943, U.S. government relocated “loyal” Nisei (2nd generation Japanese) to the Midwest and east coasts and the Itos were sent to Chicago. When twenty-year-old Aki and her parents arrive, they expect to meet Aki’s older sister, Rose, who had settled ahead of the family. Instead, they learn that Rose was killed the day before by a subway train at the Clark and Division station. Though the police rule Rose’s death a suicide, Aki refuses to accept that her sister, a beautiful and confident young woman, would take her own life.

Right away, Aki and her parents must plan Rose’s funeral. In addition, although the War Resettlement Authority found them an apartment, they must immediately find jobs to support themselves. Many other Issei (1st generation) and Nisei live in the Clark and Division neighborhood, including people the family knew in Los Angeles and at Manzanar. These connections help the Itos get settled.

Soon, Aki begins her investigation, talking to the police, the coroner, and friends. When she visits Rose’s roommates, she is sure they are hiding something. Can she trust family friend, Roy, who had hoped to marry Rose? Who are the rough-looking men in zoot suits who show up first at Rose’s funeral? Although determined to learn the truth, and emboldened by the memory of her sister’s fearlessness, several of Aki’s decisions endanger herself, her family, and friends. The story is a classic mystery in this sense and raises suspicion in several characters, leading Aki down a few wrong paths. An unexpected romance further complicates Aki’s investigation.

Told through Aki’s voice, readers learn about her family’s hardships, how they were forced to leave their homes and belongings behind, about the Japanese culture and their resettlement in Chicago. I was very interested in this part, which makes the book, in my opinion, more historical fiction than mystery. Through her characters, the author provides a look at Chicago’s multicultural neighborhoods and highlights the unique situations that arise during World War II. Hirahara, the daughter of Japanese immigrants, based her story on thirty years of research of Japanese American history.

I enjoyed reading Clark and Division. As I mentioned, I would describe it as a light mystery and heavier on the history, which was okay with me. I have read a lot of historical fiction set during World War II, but never one about the Japanese American experience.

No playlists today, but here is a song (Kenji by Fort Minor) that I immediately thought of when I began this book:

Thanks for visiting—come back soon!

28 thoughts on “Book Review: Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara

    1. Yes, I did prefer the historical part, as the mystery wasn’t much of one after it all played out, but I did not know much about the Japanese resettlement in Chicago. Thank you for the visit, Priscilla!

  1. Thanks for the great review. Canada did the same to many Japanese who had settled on the Pacific coast. In 1988, the federal government formally apologised and offered compensation. Not a single ethnically Japanese person was ever found to have been disloyal. What a truly awful chapter in the histories of both our countries.

    1. Hi Davida, to clarify, in this story, the family was sent to Manzanar in 1942, shortly after Pearl Harbor, and were relocated to Chicago’s Clark and Division neighborhood in 1944. I’m guessing the timeline varied for other Japanese, which supports your comment. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

    1. Hi Derrick. I don’t listen to a lot of rap, but my kids introduced me to Fort Minor because I liked another band, Linkin Park. Thanks for giving it a go, though!

    1. Yes, it was a terrible decision. Another commenter from Canada said that they also detained Japanese during WWII. Looking back, we can see how hysteria kept people from thinking rationally. Thank you for reading and commenting, Tim.

  2. It’s so sad how war brings out the worst in people, and not all the victims are killed by soldiers. The book sounds fascinating, and I think I’d like to read it.

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