Clark and Division

Written by Naomi Hirahara
Review by K. M. Sandrick

Aki Ito and her parents come to Chicago in 1944, after being uprooted from their home in Tropico, California, incarcerated with thousands of other Japanese Americans at Manzanar following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and released by the War Relocation Authority to resettle in the Midwest. Just as they step off the train in Chicago’s Union Station, the Itos learn a devastating fact: Aki’s older sister Rose, sent ahead of the family as one of the first Nisei to go to Chicago, was killed the night before, run over by a subway train at the Clark and Division station.

Although authorities insist Rose’s death was an accident, Aki is suspicious. So she pieces together bits of information from Rose’s journal and talks with friends and acquaintances who are often reluctant to reveal details about Rose’s life, particularly in the days before her death. In the process she learns disturbing facts about what Rose and other Japanese women have been facing.

Clark and Division is rich in detail about the lives of relocated Japanese—the jobs they find, the places they live, the streets they walk, the people they encounter—and the city of Chicago and its neighborhoods in the 1940s. Nevertheless, the novel keeps the reader at a distance. Readers can observe what Aki sees and does, but may have difficulty connecting with her to feel what she feels and share in her experiences.

Naomi Hirahara is an Edgar award-winning author of the Mas Arai series, which features a survivor of the atom-bomb attack on Hiroshima who subsequently works as a gardener and does amateur sleuthing in Pasadena, California.