I received a digital advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In Clark and Division, the Second World War is still being fought when Aki Ito’s sister, Rose, is released from Manzanar (the largest of the ten Japanese internment camps). Rose moves to Chicago for a fresh start, and the family plans to join her as soon as they can. However, when Aki and her parents arrive months later, they learn that Rose has been killed by a subway car. And when the police claim it was suicide, Aki sets out to prove that it wasn’t.
I’ve read several books that cover the incarceration of Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans, but I’ve never read one that focuses on the time just after that, when thousands of families had to deal with this further displacement. Often, families from California like the Itos didn’t return, but instead moved to cities like Chicago or Cleveland, and it was fascinating to read about the complexities of starting over like that.
I also liked Aki a lot. She’s determined not to let her life be ruled by the trauma done to her by the government, nor does she allow them to tell her what to think or do. However, some of her naivete surrounding how to function in Chicago gives her trouble sometimes. Overall, though, she’s kind and tenacious and an engaging character.
There are many other characters, and beyond Aki’s parents, her boyfriend, and a few close friends, they were kind of hard to keep track of sometimes. However, the main cast surrounding Aki were distinct and had pretty well fleshed out personalities of their own. I also liked seeing the glimpses into Rose’s life from her diary pages; it made her a character in her own right.
I was interested to follow the mystery of Rose’s death, especially as it explored some of the obstacles women (particularly women of Japanese descent) had to deal with at the time. The dealings with racism, sexism, and rigid gender roles are handled really well. Hirahara clearly did tons of research, and it shines.
The end of the book felt like it wrapped up somewhat quickly, but was still satisfying. I walked away from this book feeling more educated on this period of history, connected to the characters, and quite glad I read this. Overall, it’s an intriguing but not glamorous mystery that reads almost like a really cinematic memoir of a woman fighting the odds to bring justice to her sister in an unfair world.
Overall rating: 8.7/10
Clark and Division will be published on August 3rd, 2021!