Clark and Division

by Naomi Hirahara

Set in the heated days of early 1944 Aki Ito, her two parents and sister Rose are living in Manzanar Internment Camp in California through the forced relocation of all people of Japanese ancestry living in the United States. Deeply unhappy with life in the camp the Itos jump at the opportunity to take part in a resettlement program in Chicago as part of a plan of the War Relocation Authority to integrate Japanese into cities away from the coast. This resettlement itself is an important part of history that is less remembered today. First, Rose is granted leave to settle in Chicago several months before the rest of the family is granted leave from camp. Later Aki and her parents are granted permission to join Rose in Chicago. But upon arriving, the Itos are greeted not by Rose, but by the tragic news that Rose has died after being hit by a subway train at Clark and Division station.

Aki is devastated by the initial shock of her sister’s death, but becomes determined to learn the full truth of Rose’s death after the police decline to investigate ruling it an open and shut case of suicide. This leads Aki to track down contacts of her sister, her former roommates, and others in the now expanding Japanese community of Chicago for hints of who killed her sister and why someone would kill a caring person like Rose.

Through Aki’s eyes we see the tensions and social issues including poverty and inequality between White Americans and Black, Japanese and other ethnic minorities. Unsupported by her family, friends and police in her search for answers about Rose’s death Aki sets down a path that will leave her forever changed.

Naomi Hirahara expertly shows us the intricacies of a troubled time in American history through Chicago’s neighbourhoods and the places that are central to them like the Newberry library, and Bughouse square in downtown Chicago.  This gives readers some insight into Japanese American experiences, their culture and community in a way that is both informative and entertaining which sets It apart from similar books in the mystery genre. Hirahara’s fast paced narrative will leave you guessing until the very end.