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Summer of the Big Bachi Mass Market Paperback – January 29, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews
Book 1 of 5 in the Mas Arai Mysteries Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In chapter one of Hirahara's seamless and shyly powerful first novel, a Japanese PI unsettles prickly, stubborn Mas Arai, Hiroshima survivor, widower and estranged father, and the other elderly Japanese-American gardeners who hang out at Wishbone Tanaka's Lawnmower Shack in the seedy L.A. suburb of Altadena. The PI's disturbing questions concern a nurseryman called Joji Haneda, reported dead in the atomic blast that leveled Hiroshima in August 1945, but who was actually still alive in California in June 1999. A month later, Haneda is brutally murdered. Mas must revisit his past and open old, still festering wounds in order to solve the crime, while the specter of bachi, akin to instant bad karma, hovers over him like the black clouds of his recurring nightmares. In his cherished 1956 Ford truck, unlikely sleuth Mas pursues a trail that leads him to an all-night noodle shop, an illegal gambling loft and a chow-mien bowling-alley/cafe. After his truck and dignity are stolen, Mas enlists the help of two lovingly rendered, all-too-human friends: Haruo Mukai, whose long white hair hides a false eye and shocking keloid scar, and Tug Yamada, a gentle, honorable giant willing to put his own life on the line for others. Peppered with pungent cultural details, crisp prose and credible, fresh descriptions of the effects of the A-bomb, this perfectly balanced gem deserves a wide readership.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Review

"[A] seamless and shyly powerful first novel..... Peppered with pungent cultural details, crisp prose and credible, fresh descriptions of the effects of the A-bomb, this perfectly balanced gem deserves a wide readership."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Naomi Hirahara's story of forgotten men who share an unforgettable past sweeps the reader into a world most of us know little about. Luckily, our guide is Mas Arai, a complete original, and Hirahara's sure and generous voice brings him vividly to life.”—S.J. Rozan, Edgar award winning of Winter and Night

“Naomi Hirahara is a bright new voice on the mystery scene. Summer of the Big Bachi presents an intriguing puzzle written with a true insider’s eye for Japanese American life”—Dale Furutani, Anthony award winning author of Death in Little Tokyo

“A novel about social change wrapped inside a mystery, Summer of the Big Bachi toggles deftly between past and present and reveals the hopes and compromises that lurk on the fringes of the American Dream.”—Denise Hamilton, Edgar award nominated author of Last Lullaby
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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Dell; Reprint edition (January 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0440241545
  • ISBN-13: 978-0440241546
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.8 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #869,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael K. Smith TOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
Masao Arai is an aging Japanese gardener in Los Angeles who's just barely making it. He's also one of the several hundred American-born Japanese who was in Hiroshima in August 1945, an experience from which he will never, ever escape. He's not an important man by anyone's standards, he's not even very involved in anyone else's affairs (now that his wife is dead of cancer and his semi-estranged daughter has gone off to New York to be a film maker), but he has a few friends and many acquaintances among the other Japanese and Nisei in LA. One of them is a man known as Joji Haneda, whom he knew in Hiroshima, whom Mas has avoided seeing again for a couple of decades, because Joji is not what he appears. Now a young Japanese reporter, the grandson of a woman Mas also used to know, has turned up asking probing questions. And a local woman dies, with the grandson being blamed. And other Japanese are poking around, making trouble for Mas and his friends, and all the things Mas wants not to remember are coming back to haunt him -- especially about what happened to Joji Haneda. This book is marketed as a "mystery," but Mas isn't a detective. He doesn't even think of what he's doing as solving a crime; he just has to make amends. ("Bachi" is the avenging spirit of retribution; "what goes around comes around.") This is one of those involving, absorbing stories that stays with you for weeks after you finish the book and put it back on the shelf. The characters are very fully realized, the Japanese under-community is brought completely to life, and the most ordinary, unheroic people show the depths of themselves. An amazing book.
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Format: Paperback
This book opens a window onto the lifeways and outlooks of an older generation of Japanese Americans in Los Angeles, told through the story of an unlikely protagonist, Mas Arai, a man of few words but strong convictions. Hirahara conveys a realistic, detailed sense of this subculture, giving the reader a sense of "being there." I enjoyed the rich descriptions of the "community hangout" (a rundown lawnmower shop), the seedy gambling joints, and the humble homes of Altadena, and getting a feel for how these folks related to each other and the world around them. I felt like I was eavesdropping on a community I knew little about, before this book. A great read, highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
I picked this book up in the mystery section of my local library when I was looking for a fun summer read. Imagine my delighted surprise when I instead encountered a deep, complex novel exploring all of the great human themes: love, obligation, betrayal, loss, and redemption. It is set against an accurate portrayal of a sub-culture of L.A. most of us never see. Highly recommended.

My only concern is the apparent intention to make the protagonist into one of those serial mystery sleuths. He seems too uniquely suited to the history and situations in this book to be credibly trotted out for repeated triumphs.
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Format: Paperback
Being a Japanese-American (sansei from the Midwest), I really felt that the characters rang true - no "model minority" stereotypes. Just ordinary people, some good, some bad, caught up in a situation (the mystery) that doesn't get fully explained until the end. If you're looking for a hard-boiled mystery, this might not be your cup of tea. The characters and their background is what stands out. The protoganist is a kibei (American-born but raised in Japan - most speak accented English) who lived through the A-bomb blast in Hiroshima. The mystery involves events that occurred back then.

This book was a quick and enjoyable read and I look forward to her next book.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
Mas survived Hiroshima to make a new life as a Japanese gardener in California. But ever since seeing his friends burned alive in Hiroshima, he can't shake the nightmares. And he's had trouble connecting with people, even his own family. He carries a load of guilt for abandoning one friend in the chaos following the bomb, and he expects retribution for his failings. The Japanese call it bachi, a kind of karmic consequence.

And enough goes wrong for Mas in this book to justify his fears. Gardening jobs dry up, and Mas's truck is stolen, and people are murdered... It falls to Mas to find the truth behind the deaths.

Mas is not warm and fuzzy. Nothing interests him much, except gardening and gambling. He's not even a very good investigator because of his lack of people skills. But still, he's an unusual protagonist, and I intend to try the next book on the series. I did not care for the author's phonetic rendering of the Japanese accent. It didn't strike me as true to life. But I'm hoping this will be less intrusive in the next book.

The real fascination of this book comes from the descriptions of the bombing and how it overshadowed the lives of Hiroshima survivors in America.
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By A Customer on March 30, 2004
Format: Paperback
Over fifty years have passed since the Americans dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. During the subsequent five plus decades the world has dramatically changed as Japan and the United States are allies with an economic rivalry as two of the most powerful nations on the globe.
Numerous Japanese survivors of the Hiroshima debacle have lived and still reside in Los Angeles. This included until recently gardener Joji Haneda, who died less than a month ago in a Ventura County hospital. Two Japanese visitors were seeking out Joji. Shine magazine writer Yuki Kimura wanted to ask him about what happened to Yuki's vanished grandfather Riki Kimura just after the bomb fell, something he believed Joji had known. Working for a client, private eye Shuji Nakane wanted to question Joji for information on a stolen classic 1956 Ford pickup. However, Yuki will learn the stunning truth about 1945 and his lost grandfather, but also ends up arrested for murder.
The intrigue surrounding Hiroshima at the time of the bomb and the insightful look at the Japanese-American subculture in Southern California overwhelm the mystery. The cast is strong especially the two visitors and the three conspiratorial friends hiding the past including perceptions of Joji. Though the mystery behind what happened to Riki seems minor, fans of astute looks at subcultures within the so called American melting pot will appreciate Naomi Hirahara's delightful debut.
Harriet Klausner
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