Gasa-Gasa Girl: A Look at Naomi Hirahara’s Sequel to “Big Bachi”

The reluctant sleuth, Mas Arai, returns as Naomi Hirahara follows up her acclaimed first mystery novel, Summer of the Big Bachi, with another murder mystery adventure.

From the time she was a child, Mas Arai’s daughter, Mari, was completely gasa-gasa—never sitting still, always on the go. And Mas, busy tending lawns, gambling, and struggling to put his Hiroshima past behind him, never had much time for the family he was trying to support. For years now, his resentful daughter has lived a continent away in New York City, and had a life he knew little about. But an anxious phone call from Mari asking for his help plunges the usually obstinate Mas into a series of startling situations from maneuvering in an unfamiliar city to making nice with his tall, blond son-in-law, Lloyd, to taking care of a sickly child ... to finding a dead body in the rubble of a former koi pond.

Both a riveting mystery and a powerful story of passionate relationships across a cultural divide, Gasa-Gasa Girl is a tale told with heart and wisdom.

“‘Gasa-gasa&rsquo in the sequel not only refers to the daughter Mari, but also the whole city of New York, and the ethnic diaspora that occurs in America” says Hirahara. And while the lead character of Mas Arai is loosely based on Hirahara’s father, hardly any of the relationships seen in Gasa-Gasa Girl parallel the author’s own.

“I’m very close to both my parents; I don’t think I could have written a book from a Kibei perspective if I wasn’t.” she says. “A big part of the book revolves around interracial relationships and being Hapa. Through their adventures, Mas and Mari’s relationship will either strengthen or disintegrate further.”

With her novel, Hirahara provides readers with a compelling grasp of the Japanese American subculture, and the cultural challenges faced between generations.

“I think all Nikkei institutions are struggling with the issue of ethnic and cultural identity. Do we really have anything in common?” asks Hirahara, a former editor with the The Rafu Shimpo, the largest Japanese American daily newspaper. “I do think that besides our collective history, there is something that binds us—cultural values. Many times Sansei and Yonsei conduct themselves in a certain way because of the way they were raised. Although they may have little to do with the Japanese American community on a daily basis, they have the same cultural values. It’s so interesting to watch what results in future generations.”

In completing her second novel with Mas Arai, Hirahara has seen the character evolve quite unexpectedly. “In Gasa-Gasa Girl, Mas is a much kinder, gentler character—more pro-active. In the first book, Summer of the Big Bachi, he experiences an epiphany; he’s better able to face his past and move in the present,” she explains. “Also, Mas is a fish out of water in New York. I think being in a foreign place can temporarily transform a person. And lastly, he is being reconciled with his daughter and meets his grandson for the first time. When they are endangered, Mas cannot sit back as usual. The stakes are high.”

In creating a successful mystery series, Hirahara has also presented readers with an insider’s view of Japanese American life. So where will our guide, Mas Arai, take us next?

“I hope to take my readers into more little known aspects of the Japanese American community. One comment I received from a reader was that she didn’t realize that there was such a big difference between Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans. That she was able to see that Japanese and Japanese Americans are not monolithic was evidence that Summer of the Big Bachi did what it was supposed to do,” says Hirahara. “The third book I’m working on is set in the Okinawan American community in the South Bay. I hope to also explore the Sansei experience with the redress and reparations movement in a future book.”

With each new adventure, we look forward to going along on the ride with Mas Arai, through Hirahara’s refreshing storytelling.

March 2005

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