Mas Arai didn’t believe in Jesus or Buddha, but thought there might be something in bachi. In Japanese, bachi was when you snapped at your wife, and then tripped on a rock in the driveway. You didn’t suffer your punishment in another lifetime, but within the same life, even within the next few minutes.
Bachi, that Japanese idea of divine retribution, or “what goes around, comes around,” is at the heart of this mystery, Summer of the Big Bachi, by Naomi Hirahara. Her main character, Mas Arai, is a Japanese American gardener in LA. He was born in America but was living in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped, August 6, 1945. He and three friends were together that morning, but only two of them survived the blast. He soon returned to the US, where he eventually married and had a daughter. His gardening business allowed him to live on the “fringe” of the American dream, but he was always a quiet outsider.
Something happened between those three friends on that August day in Hiroshima. Mas never talked about Hiroshima, even to his wife when she was alive, or to his daughter, but the events that happened on that day are no longer in the past. Whatever problem Mas kept secret for so many years has arrived in LA, and Mas is in danger. It is definitely the summer of big Bachi!
I found this first mystery by Naomi Hirahara to be a fascinating read. It was a very interesting look at Japanese American culture, at survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima (there were 500 or so American-born Japanese living in Hiroshima at the time of the bombing), and at the struggles and prejudices of that period of US history.
Mas is a complex character, and there was much about him I didn’t like. But I was drawn to him, nonetheless, because although flawed as a person, I sensed that he could and would grow and change (within the confines of his culture). My mother-in-law is Japanese American, which added to my interest in Hirahara’s portrayal of that generation’s experience during and after the war. Her characters gave me a new understanding of, and a new perspective on my mother-in-law.
And I was equally fascinated by the idea of Bachi, and realized that I have always been a firm believer in that sort of thing — “what goes around, comes around.” — which can be both positive and negative.
I look forward to reading more of Naomi Hirahara’s books, and especially the next two Mas Arai books.