Set amid the incarceration and subsequent displacement of Japanese Americans during World War II, Clark and Division is as much about communal trauma as it is about the anguish of the Ito family, who are at the story’s center. The grief of the Japanese community in Chicago infuses the atmosphere of this novel, offering a compelling, nuanced tale of loss.
Aki Ito and her family have been in a Japanese incarceration camp in California since shortly after Pearl Harbor was bombed. When the Itos are forced to resettle in Chicago in 1944, Aki’s outgoing, dynamic sister, Rose, is sent to the city a few months before the rest of the family arrives. The unfailingly resilient Rose has endured incarceration with the least visible distress, so Aki is shocked when they arrive in Chicago and find that Rose took her own life two days prior.
Aki refuses to believe her sister would kill herself, and in between a bleak job search and caring for her now frail parents, she seeks out answers about her sister’s death. Amateur sleuth Aki must navigate her insular community, which is insulated for depressingly good reasons, as well as overt racism from the wider world as she learns that some people would prefer she let the matter rest.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: How Naomi Hirahara used a crime novel to "cut through to the truth."
Edgar Award-winning author Naomi Hirahara explores trauma on multiple scales in this mystery. On a micro level, Aki struggles to accept the loss of her vibrant sister and watches her father, once a successful businessman, decline into alcoholism. Her family’s home and business back in California have been stolen from them, forcing her parents, deeply proud immigrants, to take whatever jobs they can find.
On a macro level, everyone in the predominantly Japanese American neighborhood of Clark and Division (named for two nearby streets) is struggling to find their place in a world where they are unfairly seen as the enemy. Some members of the community enlist in the military in order to prove their loyalty to the United States, some turn to crime to earn a living and some are so boxed in by deeply racist socioeconomic structures that they give up entirely.
Yet for Aki, hope is still present, if tarnished. Her journey to make peace with Rose’s death is also a journey to reconcile herself to her new life, while still refusing to forget Rose or their family’s history.