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Southland (book)

Book cover. Courtesy of Akashic Books
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

Southland is a critically acclaimed 2003 novel by Nina Revoyr set primarily in the multiracial Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles. Part multi–generational family saga, part murder mystery, and part coming of age novel, the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans affects several characters directly and is a background part of the world of the novel's key figures, both African American and Japanese American.

Book and Author Overview

Author Nina Revoyr was born in Japan and grew up in Tokyo, Wisconsin, and Southern California, first in the South Bay, then in Culver City, graduating from Culver City High School. Her mother is a Japanese national and her father a white American. Her four novels all feature Japanese American characters in a multi-racial environment, and three are set in Los Angeles in various historical periods. Her first novel, The Necessary Hunger (1997) centers on two high school age basketball players in Los Angeles, one Japanese American, one African American, and both lesbian. Her third, The Age of Dreaming (2008), has a Sessue Hayakawa -like Japanese American silent film star protagonist who is rediscovered by a young writer in 1964 and her fourth, Wingshooters (2011) examines race relations in a small midwest town in 1974.

Set in 1994, the protagonist of Southland , her second novel, is twenty-five year old Yonsei lesbian law student Jackie Ishida. Born and raised in the upscale suburb of Torrance, California, the daughter of two physicians, she has clearly lived a privileged life. The novel begins with the death and funeral of Jackie's grandfather Frank Sakai, a Nisei who had doted on Jackie as a child, but whom Jackie gradually drifted away from as she grew older. Jackie's somewhat bohemian aunt Lois, with whom Frank lived and whom Jackie is very close to, has Jackie come over to review some of Frank's papers. Among them, they find an old will that leaves the store he had once owned in the Crenshaw neighborhood to a Curtis Martindale, a name neither woman has heard of before. They also find a envelope marked "store" that contains $38,000 in cash. Lois asks Jackie to investigate who Curtis was, which Jackie grudgingly agrees to. Through a contact made at Frank's funeral, she meets Curtis's cousin, James Lanier, who manages an after school program in Crenshaw and who knew Frank. James tells Jackie that Curtis was one of four young African American teenagers who were killed in Frank's store during the Watt's riots, a crime that was covered up both from the general public and from Jackie's family. Believing the killer to be a particularly racist white policeman who witnesses remember seeing go in the store with the boys, Jackie ends up helping James investigate the murders. In the process, she learns about her family history and about her grandfather's life before the family abruptly moved to the suburbs after the riots, revelations that change her own understanding of herself and her life's priorities. The book is written from the point of view of multiple characters and the chapters alternate between the book's present of 1994 and various historical episodes that impact the discoveries that Jackie and James make.

According to Revoyr, the inspiration for the novel came from a visit to the iconic Holiday Bowl, a bowling alley and cafe in the Crenshaw district that was a de facto community center for both African American and Japanese American residents of the area. [1] Much of the novel takes place in the Crenshaw neighborhood, which is located southwest of downtown Los Angeles. Frank Sakai grows up there before the war when it was a semi-rural area known as Angeles Mesa. He and his friends—an equal number of African Americans and Japanese Americans—attend Dorsey High School prior to his and his family's wartime incarceration and the subsequent deaths of his father at Santa Fe detention camp and his sister in childbirth at Manzanar . During their incarceration, Frank's friend Victor Conway watches over the family's property. After serving heroically in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team , Frank returns to Crenshaw to work in an African American owned store, whose owner eventually gifts the store to him. In the postwar years, Crenshaw became a residential and business enclave for both Japanese Americans and African Americans, the two populations mostly living harmoniously side by side, as reflected in the book. [2]

The book was rejected by several mainstream publishers before being published in April 2003 by Akashic Books, a Brooklyn based small press that had had success with other lesbian themed titles. [3] In 2005, it was published in a Japanese translation by Yũ Honma.

Reaction and Impact

Buoyed by largely positive reviews in alternative weeklies, the GLBT press, and such mainstream publications as the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post , Publishers Weekly reported that 10,000 copies had been sold in the first quarter after publication. [4] Southland was named one of the Best Books of 2003 by the Los Angeles Times and a 2004 Stonewall Honor Book in Literature by the American Library Association and received the "Lesbian Fiction" award at the 16th annual Lambda Literary Awards in 2004 and the 2004 Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian Fiction, among many other awards and honors. [5] Southland has also been analyzed in doctoral dissertations by Mikage Kuroki and Emily Hiramatsu Morishima.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho


  1. See , accessed October 12, 2012.
  2. For a history of Japanese Americans and African Americans in the Crenshaw neighborhood, see Scott Kurashige, The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).
  3. Charlotte Abbott, "Brooklyn Press Scores With L.A. Writer," Publishers Weekly 250.28 (July 14, 2003): 23. Academic Search Premier , EBSCOhost (accessed October 12, 2012).
  4. Abbott, "Brooklyn Press."
  5. ; ; ; , all accessed October 12, 2012.
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Find in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration


This item has been made freely available in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration , a collaborative project with Internet Archive .

Might also like What the Scarecrow Said by Stuart David Ikeda; Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire by David Mura; Why She Left Us by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

Media Details
Author Nina Revoyr
Publication Date 2003
For More Information

For More Information

Nina Revyor's Southland page on her website,

Revoyr, Nina. Southland . New York: Akashic Books, 2003.

Kirsh, Jonathan. "A Rainbow Arcs Over L.A. Noir," Los Angeles Times Book Review , June 29, 2003, .

Kurashige, Scott. The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles . Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010. [A history of the Crenshaw neighborhood in Los Angeles.]

Kuroki, Mikage. "L.A. Stories: Identity and Conflict in Posturban Culture." Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Riverside, 2011.

Morishima, Emily Hiramatsu. "Remembering the Internment in Post-World War II Japanese American Fiction." Ph.D. dissertation, UCLA, 2010.

Pareles, Marissa. "L.A. Noir Made New." Lambda Book Report 11, no. 7/8 (February 2003): 30-32. Academic Search Premier , EBSCOhost.