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Tales of Desegregation & Sayonara Slam

May 3, 2016

naomi-hirahara_tales-of-desegregation_crop_(2)Naomi Hirahara has been introducing many of us to a world about which we no little, if anything. Her Mas Arai mystery series follows the life of Mas Arai, a (now) retired landscape gardener who’s career and wife have passed, who’s attempting to stay in a new relationship while worrying about being too old and being dishonorable to his wife’s memory, who’s still treading lightly when it comes to his relationship with his daughter, and who keeps stumbling upon dead bodies.

This is a light mystery series, with deep and thoughtful undertones. Hirahara’s Arai was living in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 when America dropped the atomic bomb. The 9,000-pound, 15 kiloton, uranium-235 bomb christened “Little Boy” was dropped by parachute at 8:15 a.m. It exploded 2,000 feet above Hiroshima, yet with the blast equal to 15,000 tons of TNT, wiping out 90% of the city for five square miles, instantly killing 80,000 people.

 

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The character Mas Arai lives through this unprecedented bombing while he’s visiting Japan as a teenager. Hirahara explains to Karen Grimsby Bates (NPR.org):

“It was really important for me for Mas to have the experience of being a hibakusha, or atomic bomb survivor — but an American-born hibakusha,” says Hirahara, who is a former reporter and editor for The Rafu Shimpo, a Japanese-language Los Angeles daily. She says Mas Arai’s unique status was inspired by her own family history: both of her parents were in Hiroshima when the pikadon — “bomb of light” — was dropped. Her mother, Mayumi, lived in the countryside, but her father was only a few miles from ground zero. Hirahara believes his after-school job at the Hiroshima train station saved Isamu Hirahara’s life. (“Mas Aria: An Unlikely Hero Solves L. A.’s Mysteries” (2010) by Karen Grigsby Bates/NPR.org)

Arai immigrates to America, and starts anew. But though he’s found a career, married, and had friends and family, Mas is a man who comes across as emotionally insular. Not from a conscious desire to be aloof or indifferent, but as a consequence of the world he knew once being destroyed in seconds, traveling across an ocean, and attempting to create a new world for himself that even decades later can seem foreign to him.

 

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Besides the launching of Sayonara Slam, Hirahara has released the ebook Loma Alta: Tales of Desegregation. She speaks at Allendale Library on May 14. (Text below courtesy of Allendale Library.)

Loma Alta: Tales of Desegregation, an online book written by novelist and social historian Naomi Hirahara, is about her experiences as an elementary school student during the time when desegregation and busing started in the Pasadena Unified School District. During this presentation, Hirahara will read from her memoir-in-progress. Additional contributors, including former John Muir High School student Meredeth Maxwell, will be sharing their work. Excerpts from Pablo Miralles’ documentary, Can We All Get Along?, currently in progress, will be shown as well.

 

Author Naomi Hirahara, front row, 3rd from right, leaning to the left; photo courtesy of author

Author Naomi Hirahara, front row, 3rd from right, leaning to the left; photo courtesy of author

 

Naomi Hirahara, Edgar Award-winning author, was born in Pasadena, California. Her father, Isamu (known as “Sam”), was also born in California, but was taken to Hiroshima, Japan, as an infant. He was only miles away from the epicenter of the atomic bombing in 1945, yet survived. Naomi’s mother, Mayumi, or “May,” was born in Hiroshima and lost her father in the blast. Shortly after the end of World War II, Sam returned to California and eventually established himself in the gardening and landscaping trade in the Los Angeles area. After Sam married May in Hiroshima in 1960, the couple made their new home in Altadena and then South Pasadena, where Naomi and her younger brother Jimmy grew up and attended secondary school.

Hirahara will have copies of  Sayonara Slam, and some of her other book available for purchase and signing.

 

Author Naomi Hirahara

Author Naomi Hirahara

 

Loma Alta: Tales of Desegregation

Saturday, May 14th, 2 p.m.
Allendale Public Library, 1130 S. Marengo Ave., Pasadena
Free event
For more info, visit CityofPasadena.net/library/allendale_branch.

This event is made possible, in part, by a grant from the Pasadena Arts & Culture Commission and the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs Division.

 

Photo courtesy of Naomi Hirahara

Photo courtesy of Naomi Hirahara

 

Other books by Hirahara, including Strawberry Yellow, reviewed by Hometown Pasadena here.

 

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NaomiHirahara.com

 

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Historical details gleaned from History.com and HistoryGuy.com.

 

 




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