SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI, Naomi Hirahara (reviewed by Phil Abbott)
Los Angeles is arguably the birthplace of the American detective novel. The multiple opportunities for corruption, political, economic and personal, make this city an ideal locale for examining the success/failure narrative at the heart of the American Dream.
More recently, new writers have offered revisionist accounts, still with some marks of homage, that veer from the iconic chroniclers of LA by centering those who were largely invisible in the early narratives. Racial and ethnic minorities were generally given roles of house servants, gardeners, day laborers and cooks. Naomi Hirahara’s works are certainly among the very best of this new sub-genre.
In her first novel, Summer of the Big Bachi (2008), Hirahara’s protagonist is not a PI but a gardener, one of those invisible people in the traditional LA novel. Mas Arai is a Japanese-American whose childhood included a brief return to the native Hiroshima of his family. Arai, like the traditional PI, is very much a flawed figure, an indifferent husband and father, with gambling issues. And like the PI, he makes a living on the margins, in this case with a dwindling set of clients many of whom have now hired larger Mexican landscape firms. He is justifiably obsessed with “bachi,.” a belief that some slight or larger moral wrong is inevitably swiftly paid back by punishment.
Arai’s bachi is the arrival in LA of Joji Haneda, a childhood friend from Hiroshima. Both survived the atomic bomb attack in 1945. What follows is a carefully plotted thriller involving previous wrongs, disguised identities, and, yes, political and economic corruption. The Summer of the Bachi is a captivating and poignant novel that not only excels as a revisionist work but independently as a novel of considerable power.
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