From the back of the paperback edition I read:
In the foothills of Pasadena, Mas Arai is just another Japanese-American gardener, his lawnmower blades clean and sharp, his truck carefully tuned. But while Mas keeps lawns neatly trimmed, his own life has gone to seed. His wife is dead. And his livelihood is falling into the hands of the men he once hired by the day.This book pulled me into Mas Arai's story immediately. It is 1999 and Mas is nearly 70; he is still working as a gardener. At one time he had several large estates to care for; now his clientele has dwindled to one large estate and short term jobs he finds here and there. Mas was born in the US, but his family had returned to Japan and he had spent his childhood there. He survived the bombing of Hiroshima, and later returned to the US. And for over 50 years he has lived with a secret that haunts him. Then two men with different agendas come seeking his old acquaintance, Joji Haneda, and he can no longer avoid the truth.
The story moves at a slow pace. It is not short on violence, but much of the book is spent in Mas Arai's quest to discover why people are looking into his past. Most of the characters are old friends of Mas, and we get a picture of the Japanese-American community and the changes it is going through. There is a heavy use of dialect. I did not find this problematic and I felt it was necessary to convey the setting, the characters and their relationships.
At one point, Mas goes with his friend Haruo to a medical exam conducted by doctors from Hiroshima. They come to the US every two years to examine Japanese Americans who were exposed to the bomb. These examinations began in 1977; hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) are also seen in three other locations in the US (San Francisco, Seattle and Honolulu). This is just one example of bits of history that I was unaware of until I read this book.
Naomi Hirahara used her own background in writing this book. From the author's website:
Naomi Hirahara 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.The main attraction of this book for me was the cultural setting; the characters are interesting and different but we don't get an in-depth picture of any one character. I will be interested in seeing how the series progresses, because the basis of this book would not work for future stories. There are four more books in the series, and I am looking forward to seeing more of Mas Arai.