“In her debut novel, Kimiko Guthrie creates an alternately whimsical and nightmarish thriller in which the mystery seems to remain just out of reach…With Block Seventeen, Guthrie has recreated the fear of the other and created a hauntingly visceral experience that will linger on the fringes of the amygdala.” —Salon
Akiko “Jane” Thompson, a half-Japanese, half-Caucasian woman in her midthirties, is attempting to forge a quietly happy life in the Bay Area with her fiancé, Shiro. But after a bizarre car accident, things begin to unravel. An intruder ransacks their apartment but takes nothing, leaving behind only cryptic traces of his or her presence. Shiro, obsessed with government surveillance, risks their security in a plot to expose the misdeeds of his employer, the TSA. Jane’s mother has seemingly disappeared, her existence only apparent online. Jane wants to ignore these worrisome disturbances until a cry from the past robs her of all peace, forcing her to uncover a long-buried family trauma.
As Jane searches for her mother, she confronts her family’s fraught history in America. She learns how the incarceration of Japanese Americans fractured her family, and how persecution and fear can drive a person to commit desperate acts.
In melodic and suspenseful prose, Guthrie leads the reader to and from the past, through an unreliable present, and, inescapably, toward a shocking revelation. Block Seventeen, at times playful and light, at others disturbing and disorienting, explores how fear of the “other” continues to shape our minds and distort our world.
“At this darkly divisive moment in our republic’s history, Block Seventeen stands as a manifestly timely work that addresses historical trauma, the fragile nature of identity, the folds of history and memory’s fissures. It is replete with surprises, sudden turns, and multiple voices while unblinkingly dramatizing the profound and enduring, intergenerational psychic scars left by the World War II Japanese American internment experience. Yet the novel is not without a knowing, redemptive humor as its characters attempt to find and define themselves not only in the unstable space between two cultures, but in the shifting terrain between past, present, and an unforeseeable future. Its quiet urgency speaks to us all.” —Michael Palmer, author of The Laughter of the Sphinx
“Compelling…A twenty-first-century ghost story offers chills in this…promising debut.” —Kirkus Reviews
“The reader is taken back and forth in time in an absorbing…narrative that is purposeful in its examination of how we seem to be reliving past horrors, speeding back down the same road, this time on the high-octane fuel of technology. This promising and totally immersive debut, rich in Japanese American culture, is as devastating and evocative as Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine, with a Hitchcockian overlay of suspense.” —Booklist
“Striking and beautiful, Block Seventeen includes reflections of family, legacy, secrets, and trauma that will shake readers to the core.” —Ms. Magazine
Kimiko Guthrie is the cofounder of Dandelion Dancetheater and a lecturer at Cal State East Bay. She holds an MFA in choreography from Mills College. She lives intergenerationally in the Bay Area with her husband, kids, and parents. Block Seventeen, which was inspired by her experience growing up with a mother who was incarcerated in a Japanese American internment camp, is her first novel.