Sunday, September 9, 2007

Gasa-Gasa Girl by Naomi Hirahara

This is an excellent novel with a mystery at the core. Mas (Maseo Arai) is asked to come to New York by his daughter. He is a 70-year-old gardener. His self-deprecation and practicality allow him to help his daughter the best he can without really knowing what she wants or how she feels about him. His son-in-law and daughter both work for a Japanese-American man trying to restore a traditional Japanese garden. When their boss is killed, they are both suspects.

Mas uses his connections and his friends' connections throughout the Japanese community in New York and Los Angeles to try to determine the killer. It is an intriguing glimpse into this community. Internment camps and Mas's experience in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped are discussed, but not dwelled upon. They are treated as rather matter-of-fact events that happened. The Japanese terms sprinkled throughout the book added to the interest. It was surprising to me that there was a special word, kibei, for people born in the US who grew up in Japan.

It is a good read as a novel and a bonus if you like mysteries as well. The writing is excellent with little gems thrown in here and there. For example, when observing his daughter's friends as they come to help when her young son is sick, "Mas could almost see all the kimochi that was being woven around his daughter and son-in-law like bolts of fabric, cocooning them from harm. But Mas knew those cocoons, no matter how saturated with love, were still fragile and vulnerable; anyone could still tear through and reach the soft parts." (pg 243)

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