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.
“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
“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
“Block Seventeen is a moving, compelling novel about intergenerational trauma and a woman’s process of integrating the various known and mysterious threads of her identity. The narrator, Jane (birth name Akiko), is the daughter of a woman who spent part of her childhood in Japanese internment camps. As the story moves back and forth between the contemporary Bay Area and the camps of the 1940s, we come to understand the tragedies that are passed down through a family, even unarticulated, which shape and, often, contaminate the present. Each of the three women in the book—Jane, her mother, her grandmother—searches for ways to evade unbearable loss, each in her separate context. Kimiko Guthrie has written a book in which what seems like surrealism or even magical realism can be understood as the efforts of troubled souls to make sense of experiences that cannot be rationally explained; in light of what is gradually learned about Jane’s family history, these experiences reveal themselves to be fragments of a painful collective and personal legacy. Guthrie’s book is poetically written and psychologically astute. I loved it.” —Anita Barrows, PhD, poet, psychologist, and author of We Are the Hunger
“Great crimes are never forgotten, and the World War II internment of the Japanese Americans continues to cast a long shadow. Block Seventeen traces parallels between past and present with a story that is sobering, hopeful, and always beautifully written.” —David C. Fathi, director, ACLU National Prison Project
“Compelling…A twenty-first-century ghost story offers chills in this…promising debut.” —Kirkus Reviews
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.