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Jo’s Pick of the Week: Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara

Dorothea Lange’s photograph of Manzanmar Detention Camp. Courtesy of University of California Berkeley, Bancroft Library via California Digital Library.

Naomi Hirahara’s new historical thriller tells a riveting story about the Japanese community that settled in Chicago from the World War II internment camps.

Hirahara is an award-winning mystery author and a former editor for the largest Japanese American newspaper in the United States. She drew on these talents to create Clark and Division, about a Japanese family that relocates in 1944 from the Manzanar Detention Camp to Chicago.

The Itos live a middle-class life in California when Japan bombs Pearl Harbor. They are forced to leave their home and move into the internment camp, along with thousands of other Japanese Americans. Eventually an estimated 20,000 are relocated to Chicago from the camps during the war if they had a good reputation and were Nisei – born American to Japanese immigrants. The neighborhood around Clark and Division streets becomes their new home.

Rose Ito, the flamboyant oldest daughter, moves to Chicago first, and plans for her parents and younger sister Aki to join her. But when they arrive in the Windy City, they receive terrible news. Rose has been hit and killed by an el train. The coroner rules it a suicide. Aki refuses to believe that pronouncement, and is determined to prove that her lively, beautiful sister was murdered.

Through Aki’s eyes, we get a feel for what life was like for a Japanese American trying to survive and fit in during a time when they were often considered the enemy by other Americans. Glimpses of 1940s Chicago and Japanese culture also enhance Hirahara’s well-researched writing. I always appreciate learning something new from a historical novel, and Clark and Division did not disappoint.

This fast-paced, emotionally intense novel a sure bet for fans of historical fiction and suspense. Its examination of Japanese Americans trying to survive prejudice and discrimination makes it a great book club book. Highly recommended.

Naomi HIrahara

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