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Julie Shigekuni’s ambitious new novel, “In Plain View,” is a family drama of infertility, adultery and murder set between the contemporary Japanese-American community of Los Angeles and the regions affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

In Plain View, by Julie Shigekuni.
246 pages
The Unnamed Press, Fiction.

Its central character, Daidai Suzuki, no longer knows where she belongs. The daughter of a Japanese immigrant mother and an Irish-American father, Daidai has a different family history to that of her husband, Hiroshi, whose parents were forced into internment camps during World War II. She explored her fascination with this history as a museum curator in Los Angeles, but recently left the job in order to try having a baby. However, her husband drives a wedge between them as he hints that she can never know the trauma of internment and that “any child born between them would be more Japanese than its mother.” Into this tense situation steps Satsuki, a Japanese graduate student sent to work with Hiroshi.

Daidai is suspicious that they’re having an affair and concerned when Satsuki’s mother, who disappeared long ago, turns up dead. But she warily accepts Satsuki as a friend, inviting the young student to join her on a trip to Japan to visit her estranged art-dealer father. The trip forces them both to confront their troubled family histories and the trauma of 2011, along with their beliefs about art, marriage and belonging.

“In Plain View” could have been a tauter thriller had it been more compact, but it remains an interesting addition to Shigekuni’s explorations of identity — especially female identity — in Los Angeles’ Japanese-American community.

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