1944: Twenty-year-old Aki Ito and her parents have just been released from Manzanar–the camp where they were detained by the US government after Pearl Harbor with thousands of other Japanese Americans.
With everything they knew in California gone, the family is being resettled in Chicago with help from Aki’s older sister, Rose, who was released and sent there months earlier to pave the way for a new Japanese American neighborhood near Clark and Division streets.
The sisters’ relationship changed during Manzanar and Aki is eager for their reunion to sweep away the last of the tensions and secrets between them. But instead of finding Rose waiting for them, the remaining Itos arrive in Chicago to the shocking news that Rose is dead–killed by a subway car in what officials are calling a suicide.
Aki refuses to believe her sister would do this to herself, especially on the eve of their Chicago arrival. While she and her parents try to start new lives, Aki also delves into Rose’s past trying to piece together the missing months and understand what really happened to her sister in Clark and Division (2021) by Naomi Hirahara.
Clark and Division is a thoughtful and well-researched historical fiction novel. Most main characters are Japanese American. Aki also starts a friendship with a Jewish American woman and a Black woman working at a local library which leads to conversations about intersectionality and the different baggage all three carry while navigating a world where the default is thought to be white and male.
Although Hirahara is an Edgar award winning author writing under a crime imprint, the investigation into Rose’s death (and the mystery such as it is) are secondary plot elements. The real story here is the experience of Japanese Americans like Aki–a Nisei (Japanese American born in America)–and her parents who are both US citizens during World War II when they are detained and after as they try to rebuild their lives. Aki’s first person narration strikes a good balance between exposition and background introducing readers to 1944 Chicago with richly detailed descriptions. The narrative also slowly teases out details about Rose’s past and the cultural landscape of the Japanese American community the Itos have joined in Chicago.
While some conclusions feel anticlimactic compared to the buildup of the mystery, Hirahara presents a well-rounded and complex story. Readers looking for inclusive and layered historical fiction will enjoy spending time with Aki on her search for answers in Clark and Division.
Possible Pairings: The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles, The Artist Colony by Joanna Fitzpatrick, Best Laid Plans by Gwen Florio, Garden of Stones by Sophie Littlefield, Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo, The Hollywood Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal, Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart