East Coast WASPS are known for speaking through clenched teeth—their jaw muscles taut and their lips barely moving. They smile through breakdowns, financial ruin, the suspension or arrest of a teen, and rejection by the golf, swim, beach, or yacht club admittance committee.
Historically, the British have invoked and cultivated the “stiff upper lip” to bolster their fortitude and see themselves through times of threat, warding off vulnerability or any impression of weakness (so unseemly).
The Japanese are considered a people with specific social mores, graces, and rules, or omote—the image an individual presents to the world. “As with any image, omote is composed of a mixture of reality, myth, and lie” (nakasendoway.com).
All around the world, peoples and cultures have adapted in order to face this thing called “life”—kicking survival instincts into high gear, which can also can lead to secrets, machinations, and intrigue. A perfect recipe for a series like author Naomi Hirahara‘s Mas Arai mysteries.
Mas Arai, hero of Naomi Hirahara’s Strawberry Yellow, stumbles into his mysteries reluctantly, fed by familial obligation. As the story progresses, it feels as though he doesn’t truly know the people he’s known for decades. As much as he moves forward to solve crime 1 and crime 2, Mas also has a habit of leaving a scene quickly (“I gotsu go”) before information has been obtained or even a question asked, hindered either by his reluctance to be involved or afraid of what he might find underneath the surface, the face mask, the ura.
Mas shuffles along, a retired person’s languid stroll, and the story reads as such. Don’t go expecting a taut, fast-paced, suspenseful jaunt. The high temperatures make Mas a bit fatigued and his detecting follows the same route—there’s no hurry, let’s see where this goes, we’ll get there when we get there. When Mas does get there, the resolution of the crimes is more a side note than a big finish. The larger revelation is that Mas finally “sees” underneath the masks, allowing him to truly recognize, acknowledge, and be thankful for those who are essential to his life.
Naomi Hirahara: Books & Conversations
Saturday, March 30th at 2 p.m.
Japanese American National Museum at 100 N. Central Avenue, L.A. 90012
For complete info, please visit JANM.org for complete details
Strawberry Yellow is published by Prospect Park Books
Goodreads Give Away ends April 5th; enter HERE to win a copy