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Strawberry Yellow by Naomi HiraharaI've always been a fan of detective and crime mystery fiction, starting from my earliest days devouring the Hardy Boys and Three Investigators books when I was just a kid. I graduated to author Agatha Christie (including her female sleuth Miss Marple), Ellery Queen and of course, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Then in college I fell in love with the hard-boiled noir novelists, such as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Among this pantheon of excellent writers and their incredible fictional sleuths, these days I look forward to each new book by Naomi Hirahara in her Mas Arai series. Arai is a little like Miss Marple -- an unlikely crime-solver in the guise of a senior citizen. But he's unlike everyone else I've read, because he's a 70-something Nisei, or second generation Japanese American who was born in California but spent his childhood in Japan. He survived the bombing of Hiroshima and returned Stateside, where the plot of "Strawberry Yellow" takes root. It starts with the funeral of Mas' second cousin Shug in Watsonville, California, where Mas worked on a strawberry farm upon his return from Japan after WWII. Shug grew up to become a renowned strawberry expert, cultivating new strains. Mas grew up a little rough around the edges, but became a gardener in Los Angeles, married and had a daughter who's now grown and he lives alone since the death of his wife. He's a crusty old man who avoids conflict and also people, and hates controversy but seems to always find himself in the middle of a murder, or theft, or some other crime. And in spite of his quirky and thorny personality, he solves the problems. You won't find a sleuth like Mas Arai in the annals of crime fiction. Naomi HiraharaAlong the way, Hirahara, who is herself the daughter of a gardener who was raised in Hiroshima, does a stellar job of accurately and lovingly reflecting her Japanese American (JA) community, including cultural traditions, venerated Japanese values, tangled family ties and the language. That includes not only lots of Japanese terms (she has a handy glossary online of some Japanese terms used in the Mas Arai books), but also capturing the heavily accented English of older JAs.

We had dinner last night at the venerable Denver Press Club with Jennifer 8.Lee and learned about Chinese food. The dinner was Chinese takeout, of course, from a DU-area eatery called "Hong Kong Cafe." It was pretty good. The dinner was organized by John Ensslin, president of the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The unfortunately small gathering was treated not only to good food and conversation, but a wonderful and entertaining presentation by Lee, a New York Times Metro reporter who has just published her first book, "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles," which is a peek at the cross-cultural pollination that Americans think of as Chinese food. First of all, change your idea of Chinese food. What most people in this country consider Chinese food is really Chinese American food. To underscore the point that Chinese food is more American than apple pie (as Lee asks, how often do Americans eat apple pie, and how often do they eat Chinese food?), the presentation begins with a startling fact: There are more Chinese restaurants in this country than McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's and Kentucky Fried Chicken combined.