Mas Arai was a successful Japanese gardener in California after WWII but his life was less successful. By 1999 his wife was long dead and his only daughter no longer spoke to him, especially since moving to New York. His idea of athletic competition was betting on horse races.
While Mas was American born, he spent much of his youth in Hiroshima after his parents decided to return there before the war. He might have remained if it had not been for the atomic bomb. As the sole survivor of his family, he had to decide at age 16 to make a life in a ruined city or return to his birthplace.
Returning meant that he carried some powerful secrets with him, secrets he shared with no one else. In 1999, those secrets hit him in what the Japanese call a bachi–what mistakes you make will haunt you–mistakes result in bad karma–what goes around comes around–your sins will catch you out.
This is Hirahara’s first mystery and she chose to set the story within her own family’s history. Her father was born in California, returned to Hiroshima as a child, survived the bomb by begin 3 miles away. Her mother’s father was killed in the blast. After they married they returned to California and he became a gardener.
This is a short read and a great read. Hirahara’s writing style is top-shelf. I checked the Amazon review ratings and tried to see why she only had 58% five stars. Most of the complaints were that Mas was not likeable and there were too many characters. OK, I see the point. But as one reviewer put it, the book is “about a curmudgeonly Japanese gardener whose many sins are catching up with him.
I give her a 4.5-star rating.