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Crescent Blues Book ViewsAkashic Books (Trade Paperback), ISBN 1-888451-41-6

Southland, the story of a young Japanese American law student living in 1994 Los Angeles, opens as Jackie Ishida's aunt discovers a small mystery lurking among the personal effects of Jackie's recently deceased grandfather, Frank Ishida. Jackie offers to solve the puzzle as a favor to her aunt.

Book: kathryn shay, southland
Jackie soon realizes however, that her exploration of her grandfather's past also leads her on a personal quest -- a search for her own identity in a way. Jackie feels, perhaps like many other second and third generation Americans, so completely assimilated into U.S. culture and values that she finds herself grown out of touch with her ancestral roots.

The novel slips back and forth through five decades as Jackie tracks down and reminisces with the old friends and acquaintances who knew her seventy-year-old grandfather. At the same time, she attempts to come to terms with the loves and relationships in her own life. Nina Revoyr uses a multiple point of view technique to explore the complexities of xenophobia and racism -- the realities of serving as a Japanese American soldier during World War II or trying to keep the peace as a black policeman during Los Angeles's Watts race riots in 1965. She presents a finely balanced story that proffers not a facile good/bad, right/wrong kind of scenario, but one that discloses a far more subtle view of the many conflicting factors that lie behind the decisions that people make or often find themselves forced to make.

I thoroughly enjoyed Nina Revoyr's telling of this many-layered story. She drives her plot along by allowing the initial little mystery from Frank Ishida's past to swell into an increasingly more compelling one, as each answer that she uncovers yields yet another question. In many ways Southland narrates a collage of coming-of-age stories that explore the tensions between individuals' desires to rise above and escape the evils and injustices of their pasts, and their obligation -- or perhaps, their duty -- to not allow themselves ever to forget the history that shaped them.

Moira Richards

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