A Baseball Mystery That’s Got Lots of Game

Sayonara Slam, by Naomi Hirahara, (Prospect Park Books), 280 pages, 10 May, 2016

The “detective” in Naomi Hirahara’s Sayonara Slam is Mas Arai, former gardener, baseball fan, and resentful host to his extended family. Like most of the characters populating this novel, Arai is fascinating, drawn in careful detail.

The mystery in this mystery novel is the murder of an unpopular Japanese journalist, who drops dead while covering a World Baseball Classic game being held at Dodger Stadium and played between historic opponents Japan and Korea.

More interesting than the mystery (which is interesting) is the network of relationships among the book’s “Japanese” characters. I’m putting Japanese in quotation marks here because their experiences are different enough to make lumping them under a single heading inappropriate. There are the Japanese who lived through internment in the U.S. in World War II. There are the Japanese who returned to Japan rather than be interned. There are the Japanese who survived the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, who are now U.S. citizens. There are Japanese who will acknowledge the wrong Japan committed when it forced Korean women to serve as “comfort women.” There are younger Japanese trying to climb their way up today’s economic ladder. Sayonara Slam lets us sees the complexity of culture played out on both historical and global scales.

Read this book for its central character and for the puzzle it’s built around, but also read it for the rich, complicated world it will introduce you to.

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