Cover image for Southland
Publication Information:
New York : Akashic Books, c2003.
Physical Description:
348 p. ; 21 cm.
Jackie Ishida, a young Japanese American woman living in Los Angeles, learns of the deaths of four young men in her grandfather's store during the 1965 Watts riot, and sets out to discover the truth about their deaths, along the way uncovering some long-buried family secrets as well.


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"I'm an LA native with a lot of love for LA crime fiction, but instead of preaching to the noir choir about The Long Goodbye , I'd like to gush about Southland by Nina Revoyr. It's a brilliant, ambitious, moving literary crime novel about two families in South Los Angeles and their tangled history between the 1930s and the 1990s. The central mystery is the death of four black boys in a Japanese-American man's store during the Watts Rebellion of 1965. It's a powerful book, one that I think about often, as well as a huge influence on my work. Right up there with Chandler."
-- Stephanie Cha (of the LARB ) in GQ on "The Greatest Crime Novelists on Their Favorite Crime Novels Ever"

"Jackie Ishida's grandfather had a store in Watts where four boys were killed during the riots in 1965, a mystery she attempts to solve."
-- New York Times Book Review , Ross MacDonald on "Where Noir Lives in the City of Angels"

"It is the kind of saga that often epitomizes and shocks LA--friction and violence between races and cultures."
-- Los Angeles Times , named one of the 20 Essential LA Crime Books

"When I started working on Your House Will Pay , I hoped to write something that was half as smart and affecting as Southland . Revoyr's novel takes place in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles, following two families--one black, one Japanese--over several decades. It's a character-driven saga with the engine of a crime novel, unravelling a horrific multiple murder that took place in the chaotic days of the Watts Rebellion in 1965."
-- The Guardian (UK), one of Steph Cha's Top 10 Books About Trouble in Los Angeles

"[A]n absolutely compelling story of family and racial tragedy. Revoyr's novel is honest in detailing southern California's brutal history, and honorable in showing how families survived with love and tenacity and dignity."
-- Susan Straight, author of Highwire Moon

Southland brings us a fascinating story of race, love, murder and history, against the backdrop of an ever-changing Los Angeles. A young Japanese-American woman, Jackie Ishida, is in her last semester of law school when her grandfather, Frank Sakai, dies unexpectedly. While trying to fulfill a request from his will, Jackie discovers that four African-American boys were killed in the store Frank owned during the Watts Riots of 1965. Along with James Lanier, a cousin of one of the victims, Jackie triesto piece together the story of the boys' deaths. In the process, she unearths the long-held secrets of her family's history.

Southland depicts a young woman in the process of learning that her own history has bestowed upon her a deep obligation to be engaged in the larger world. And in Frank Sakai and his African-American friends, it presents characters who find significant common ground in their struggles, but who also engage each other across grounds--historical and cultural--that are still very much in dispute.

Moving in and out of the past--from the internment camps of World War II, to the barley fields of the Crenshaw District in the 1930s, to the streets of Watts in the 1960s, to the night spots and garment factories of the 1990s-- Southland weaves a tale of Los Angeles in all of its faces and forms.

Author Notes

Nina Revoyr is the author of The Necessary Hunger ("Irresistible." -- Time Magazine ). She was born in Japan, raised in Tokyo and Los Angeles, and is of Japanese and Polish-American descent. She lives and works in Los Angeles.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Revoyr (The Necessary Hunger) returns to the gritty, central Los Angeles of her debut with this compelling if overlong tale of a headstrong Japanese-American lesbian law student obsessed with discovering her family history and solving a murder mystery. Jackie Ishida, 25, is undone by the sudden death in 1994 of her loving, seemingly healthy Japanese grandfather, Frank Sakai. A veteran of World War II, he lived a philanthropic life and in the 1960s owned a small grocery in the racially integrated Crenshaw district he grew up in. When Jackie's aunt Lois finds a large shoebox with $38,000 in cash in Frank's closet, both women are perplexed, particularly since they also discover a mysterious beneficiary, Curtis Martindale, in a decades-old will. Lois dispatches Jackie to find Curtis. Enter strong, street-smart James Lanier, a cousin of Curtis's, who informs Jackie that Curtis is dead. An employee at Frank's store during the Watts riots in 1965, Curtis, along with three other black teenage boys, was found frozen to death in the store's freezer. This heinous crime was never reported (nor discussed within the Sakai family) and though white beat cop Nick Lawson was pegged as a prime suspect, the case was never solved and Frank closed the store permanently. As Jackie and James dig deeper into Curtis's past, their friendship (and awkward attraction to each other) takes its toll on Jackie's fading three-year relationship with girlfriend Laura. In chapters alternating past and present, clues are uncovered that romantically link Curtis's mother Alma to Frank. When a surprise suspect in the killings is fingered, it paves the way for a dark conclusion rooted in skepticism, injustice and racial intolerance. Somewhat overplotted but never lacking in vivid detail and authentic atmosphere, the novel cements Revoyr's reputation as one of the freshest young chroniclers of life in L.A. Agent, Tim Seldes. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Spanning three generations, Revoyr's follow-up to The Necessary Hunger (1997) uses the murder of three boys during the 1965 Watts riot as the pivot point for a moving, sometimes harrowing exploration of race relations among black, Japanese, and white residents of L.A. When her grandfather dies in 1994, young Japanese American lawyer Jackie Ishida seeks to discover why her grandfather, Frank, had once planned to leave his Crenshaw grocery store to one of the murder victims, a black teen from the neighborhood. After enlisting the help of one of the young man's relatives, rock-solid community group worker James Lanier, Jackie embarks on a journey that will enable her to understand why she has fled so far from her Japanese roots she won't even consider dating a fellow Asian. Switching effortlessly from the mid-1990s to the 1960s, the 1940s, and back again, Revoyr peoples the landscape with compelling characters who are equally believable whether they're black, Japanese, male, female, gay, or straight. With prose that is beautiful, precise, but never pretentious, she brings to vivid life a painful, seldom-explored part of L.A.'s past that should not be forgotten. If Oprah still had her book club, this novel likely would be at the top of her selection list. --Frank Sennett

Kirkus Review

A mulligan stew of family saga, whodunit, and social history as a woman's attempt to understand her grandfather's will leads to the reopening of a murder case from the Watts riots. Law student Jackie Ishida spots something funny when her grandfather Frank Sakai's will leaves his Los Angeles grocery store to one Curtis Martindale. The shop was closed and sold long before Frank died, so technically the bequest was null, but Frank's widow Mary asks Jackie to find out who Curtis was and why Frank wanted him provided for. So Jackie goes down to Frank's old neighborhood, near Watts, and asks around. There, James Lanier, director of a youth group, tells her that Curtis was his cousin and used to work in Frank's shop. But a greater and more disturbing mystery arises when James tells Jackie that Curtis and three other neighborhood boys were found frozen to death in Frank's meat locker during the 1965 riots. No one suspected Frank (who was obviously fond of Curtis and the other boys) and the case was never solved--but everyone believed the murderer was a brutal white cop named Nick Lawson. When Jackie and James reopen the investigation, they find a trail of circumstance pointing to Lawson: He hated blacks and often beat up Curtis and other boys; he was seen in Frank's shop on the night of the murders; and he was shot and nearly killed in a mysterious attack a day later. But the obstacles involved in prosecuting a 35-year-old case are immense, not the least being the "blue wall of silence." Oddly enough, the most uncooperative cop is Robert Thomas, a black officer who was also seen in Frank's shop on the night of the killings. Are some secrets best left buried? A gripping second novel (after The Necessary Hunger, 1997) with some neat plot twists--but complicated by a byzantine narrative that shifts in time, trying to pack in too much. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

In her second novel (after The Necessary Hunger), Revoyr examines the gritty, colorful, sometimes tumultuous history of Los Angeles's Crenshaw district-once a truly integrated neighborhood but now predominantly African American. As Jackie Ishida helps her aunt deal with her grandfather's will, she finds out that a beneficiary named Curtis Martindale died in the searing 1965 Watts riots. When she subsequently discovers that Curtis and three other young men died in her grandfather's grocery store, she is alarmed and shaken. She locates one of Curtis's cousins, and together they launch an investigation into what happened and whether her grandfather was involved. The story line takes more twists and turns than a road full of hairpin curves, as possible suspects in the four boys' deaths-murders, to be precise-are identified and dismissed and some long-held secrets revealed. The result is foremost a meditation on race, cultural beliefs, opportunity, prejudice, and family obligation that drives home its messages by way of presenting and solving the murders. Though her writing can be stilted, Revoyr (of Japanese and Polish American descent) has crafted a provocative, absorbing story with fully realized characters. Recommended for most public and academic libraries.-Lisa Nussbaum, Dauphin Cty. Lib. Syst., Harrisburg, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.