Thursday, May 22, 2008

Summer of the Big Bachi

Summer of the Big Bachi, Naomi Hirahara

There are certainly some interesting aspects to this book. It never occurred to me, for example, that there had been American-born Japanese living in Hiroshima when the atom bomb fell on the city. Nor was I aware of the lingering tensions in the Japanese-American community between those who cooperated with the Government and served in WWII and those who refused to sign loyalty oaths and were jailed. And the whole subculture of Japanese gardeners in southern California is also intriguing to this Easterner.

But as a whole, the novel doesn't work for me, mainly because I didn't like the hero, Mas Arai. One quote on the book jacket calls him "complex and honorable," and I didn't find him either. He's a selfish, emotionally inaccessible man, unable ever to tell his wife and daughter how he feels, although the truth seems to be that he doesn't feel much. It's no wonder that his daughter fled to New York as soon as she could and never even told him that she got married.

There are several crimes, kicked off by people's sudden desire to obtain a certain piece of land, and there are multiple villains running around with assorted motives. But it's Mas's very emotional insensitivity that makes the solution of the mysteries especially implausible. Mas is a guy who hardly knows anything about people; yet he puts together several very subtle clues to uncover the reason everyone wants the land and identify the killers.* Maybe Columbo could have pulled it off, but Mas is no Columbo.

Edited to add: Of course, he's got a big head start on everybody else, because he's the only one who knows the truth about the guy everyone is looking for.

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