Clark and Division
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.
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:
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