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CLARK AND DIVISION by Naomi Hirahara: Book Review

One of the most shameful episodes in American history is brought to life in the mystery Clark and Division Naomi Hirahara has taken the stories of the internment of thousands of Japanese-born and native-born Americans of Japanese ancestry following the Pearl Harbor attack and brilliantly woven it into a novel that will touch readers’ hearts as well as keep them guessing until the last page.

The Ito family has just been released from Manzanar, a “War Relocation Center” established by the United States government to house Japanese living in the States who are not eligible for citizenship.  Rose and Aki are teenagers born in the United States (Nisei) and are eligible for citizenship, but their parents, born in Japan (Issei), aren’t, so the entire family is sent to the center in 1942.

As the novel opens, Aki and her parents are set to join Rose in Chicago, where the War Relocation Authority has sent her, along with other Nisei, to help convince the public that Japanese born in America are loyal to the United States and not to the Empire of Japan.

When the three Itos arrive at Union Station, they’re surprised that Rose is not among the people waiting to greet them.  In the midst of the crowd is a young man they know from Manzanar.  He tells them, “There was an accident at the subway station last night,” and Aki immediately realizes that her beloved sister is dead.

At the coroner’s office the following morning, Aki is dealt a further blow.  She is told that Rose’s death was not an accident but suicide and that she recently had had an abortion.  Aki is devastated by the fact that her sister had had to go through the abortion alone, and she doesn’t believe she would have killed herself the day before her family was arriving in Chicago.  She determines to find out what really happened to Rose.

The book’s title refers to the subway station where Rose’s body was found, and it’s also Aki’s launching point in her investigation into her sister’s death.  Aki is fearless, traveling alone around the metropolitan area, talking to the police, fellow members of the established Japanese community, and recent Japanese arrivals from other internment camps to discover the truth.  She hears pieces of Rose’s story from members of each group, but it’s up to her to put them together to solve the mystery of her sister’s death.

Clark and Division is a fascinating and disturbing look into what was happening in the United States during World War II, the prejudices its government and its citizens held against the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, and the retaliation against immigrant and native-born Japanese alike.

Naomi Hirahara is the author of many novels, short stories, and biographies, and was formerly the editor of the Rafu Shimpo newspaper.  She also is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Edgar for the third mystery in her Mas Arai series, Snakeskin Shamishen.  You can read more about her at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


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