Book Launch Explores Dark Underbelly of 1920s Little Tokyo

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Kaya Press’ just-published English translation of writer Shōson Nagahara’s “Lament in the Night” (Yoru ni Nageku) will be discussed on Saturday, Feb. 23, at 2 p.m. at the Japanese American National Museum’s Tateuchi Democracy Forum, 100 N. Central Ave. in Little Tokyo.

In 1925, Nagahara serialized tales of Japanese immigrants in The Rafu Shimpo. For the first time, Kaya Press has published an English translation of Nagahara’s stories about Little Tokyo’s down-and-out denizens.

The Rafu has been publishing excerpts from Nagahara’s “The Tale of Osato,” which is included in the book, providing readers of the English section with a glimpse of prewar Issei life.

In “Lament in the Night,” we meet itinerant day laborer Sazuko Ishikawa as he prowls the back alleys and bathhouses of Los Angeles looking for a meal or a job, or just someone to hold on to; and Osato, a mother struggling to survive in the world of hostess bars and nightclubs after being abandoned by her gambling-addicted husband.

Written late at night after long days of physical work, “Lament in the Night” reveals the dark underbelly of first-generation immigrant Japanese life — a life lived out in obscure alleyways and gambling dens just beyond the bright lights of the big city. The translation of Nagahara’s work opens up a new realm of American literature that has been underpublished and unexplored — namely, the literary heritage of non-English-speaking immigrants in America. The book launch will celebrate Nagahara’s forgotten classics, and reframe what we know of Little Tokyo’s early history.

Described as “a heart-rending gift from the past” by novelist Karen Tei Yamashita (“I Hotel”), this book combines the gritty sensitivity of naturalistic noir with elements of Japanese traditional storytelling and epistolary techniques. What results is a gripping tale of character and culture, morality and corruption, set against the complex background of Los Angeles’ multiethnic and class-segregated neighborhoods.

Tamlyn Tomita, Gedde Watanabe

Los Angeles Times book critic David Ulin and translator Andrew Leong will explore Nagahara’s influences, the historical context of 1920s Little Tokyo, and what this major literary rediscovery means for American literature.

Along with the conversation, the afternoon will feature lively readings by special guests from the Japanese American community, including actors Tamlyn Tomita and Gedde Watanabe, and a historical walk through Little Tokyo that follows in the footsteps of Nagahara’s characters, with a reception to follow.

Reception with free food and music by The Sadhus of Bass to follow immediately around the corner at Far Bar, 347 E. First St., from 3:15 to 5 p.m.

This event is sponsored by the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West and the USC Master of Professional Writing Program.

“Lament in the Night” is available at the Museum Store.

The event is free and open to the public. To RSVP, contact Yena Jeon at [email protected]

Walking tour begins at 10:15 a.m. and costs $14, which includes museum admission.

To see a trailer for the book, go to https://vimeo.com/59551569 or http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2Ng1eYHH6U.

For more information on Kaya Press, visit http://kaya.com. For more information on the museum, call (213) 625-0414 or visit www.janm.org.

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