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Unending Nora

Julie Shigekuni

Publication Year: 2008

Unending Nora is a love story, though not in the ordinary sense. Having retreated to the streets of the east San Fernando Valley amidst an intense heat wave, Nora Yano, who has lived the first 29 years of her life as a devout Christian and an outcast, strikes up a relationship with a stranger and experiences sexual intimacy for the first time. When Nora mysteriously disappears, her best and only friends Caroline and Melissa, each with their own lives to consider, must decide what they’re willing to risk to find her. The complications that ensue, along with an unexpected arrival home, set this novel in motion. Beneath the stories of four compelling women, Shigekuni creates a web of ideas concerning the after effects of wartime internment. Fresh out of the camps, a displaced and emotionally scarred generation clustered together to form a community; they even took on a religion in order to adapt to the society that oppressed them. Now their offspring, four young women coming of age in their thirties, must carve their own path. Unending Nora is a story about finding love through adversity. In an ambitious examination of faith, shame, and desire, Julie Shigekuni takes up where John Okada left off over fifty years ago with his masterpiece No-No Boy—to tell the story of a community ready to mark its place in the larger world.

Published by: Red Hen Press

Title Page, Copyright, Acknowledgments, Dedication, Epigraph

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Book One

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pp. 1-2

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Chapter 1

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pp. 3-15

A heat wave set that summer in motion. For twenty-two days record-breaking temperatures created a broad stripe that connected Los Angeles to Chicago, and while they knew the weather was not directly to blame, years later the heat wave of ’95 still triggered everyone’s misgivings about Nora. ...

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Chapter 2

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pp. 16-26

The San Gabriels rose in the eastern sky with an unsettling sharpness. They were a familiar sight, reliable witnesses to Nora’s growing up in the Valley, yet, on her seventh afternoon walking, she found the crags and deep pockets of shadow that clung to the mountain range daunting. ...

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Chapter 3

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pp. 27-35

Joaquin was a man with a house, a son, and an occupation. He drove the No. 163 bus, the route that cut crosswise through the Valley traversing landmarks that he had, like her, committed to memory. She trusted the things he said, about why he had to leave the place he called home, ...

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Chapter 4

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pp. 36-40

The day of Caroline’s wedding, he was sitting in front of the television when she knocked. He motioned her in and she sat on the couch, close to him but not touching. It being even hotter that day than the one before, neither of them had the energy to speak. ...

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Chapter 5

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pp. 41-46

Practical considerations kept Nora from returning to her apartment for three days following Caroline’s wedding. She blamed the sweet coconut frosting for turning a tooth bad, which led to a root canal. And as if the expense were not a big enough worry, the pain in her mouth was excruciating. ...

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Chapter 6

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pp. 47-50

Nora could not wait to return to Pacoima and to the apartment she’d come to see as her only true home, but, when she finally arrived on Wednesday, disappointment lay in every direction. The heat had not broken and the air trapped inside was stifling and still. ...

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Chapter 7

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pp. 51-58

As Nora made her way through the dark house stopping to examine each object, she believed she might finally understand what Reverend Nakatani had preached her whole life about the Kingdom of Heaven: modest, but overwhelming all the same. ...

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Chapter 8

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pp. 59-62

On the second night it was not enough to occupy the shape Joaquin had left behind on the bed. The perfect oval did not pretend to hold her imperfect form, the pull down shade served only to illuminate a shadow of itself, shedding no light into the rest of the room in which the air had all but run out. ...

Book Two

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pp. 63-64

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Chapter 9

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pp. 65-70

Like the landscape that lay hidden beneath a thick layer of smog, all that could not be said at the airport ceased to exist as the car began its descent into the Valley. Seated as the passenger beside her mother, Elinore could make out only the crude outline of landmarks, and even with the air conditioning pumping full blast, ...

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Chapter 10

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pp. 71-87

The wedding would be a large affair, maybe three hundred people packed into hard-back pews in hundred-degree weather. Seated at the rear of the church, Elinore scrutinized the backs of heads recalling human genetics and biology lectures she’d sat through in graduate school. ...

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Chapter 11

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pp. 88-101

Melissa Hori was heading over the hill into Los Angeles for a day’s worth of appointments when the radio announcer’s deep voice interrupted R.E.M. to ask who else out there could feel the rumbling. Her first thought was of Caroline, who had always been luckier than a person deserved, sunbathing in Hawaii while California tumbled into the ocean. ...

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Chapter 12

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pp. 102-109

From the hotel room where she stayed with Wade on Waikiki beach, Caroline felt the roar of the waves. Even at two blocks away and twelve stories up, the pounding surf shook the building on its foundation, and at night when the heavy curtains were drawn against the sky, the rumbling moved inside. ...

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Chapter 13

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pp. 110-118

Back in the Valley less than twenty-four hours, Caroline watched through the open window as Wade steered the car out of Sherman Oaks, which, early on a Sunday morning was deserted, the shops and restaurants showing no signs of life inside. When the heat left the Valley it had done so like a thief, ...

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Chapter 14

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pp. 119-126

How nice of you to call, Melissa thought to say when she heard Yukari’s voice. It wasn’t often that she missed Sunday services and she would have attended that morning had she not overslept. She’d felt a little embarrassed to admit it, as if fatigue pointed somehow to a character flaw, but better to tell the truth than to say she was sick. ...

Book Three

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pp. 127-128

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Chapter 15

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pp. 129-136

Nora let the first one dissolve on her tongue while still standing on Joaquin’s stoop, pausing to consider even before she’d left that she wouldn’t be returning. The taste leaking into her gums made her mouth weep and her cheeks pucker like when she used to eat Lemon Heads, except it was better. ...

Book Four

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pp. 137-138

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Chapter 16

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pp. 139-147

It felt similar to watching a boat’s wake—tiny crests that danced like flames on the water’s surface, the mind playing tricks. Love that had begun in the imagination now took shape in its failure. Naoko would grow up not knowing her father, she missed him at night and her wailing rattled the thin wall that separated the bedrooms, ...

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Chapter 17

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pp. 148-153

Jun’s homecoming changed everything. Hideko appeared transformed, attending to her husband’s every need in favor of Elinore and even Naoko. Elinore wanted to tell her mother to stop, or at least to slow down. But so much activity wasn’t all bad. ...

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Chapter 18

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pp. 154-157

Asako Hori liked Mark because he had good manners, he was training to become a lawyer, and he was handsome: for a man, that was more than enough. Melissa was still a baby when her father left. Not even walking yet, she was young enough to ride on Asako’s hip. ...

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Chapter 19

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pp. 158-171

Melissa drove from her eleven o’clock appointment to lunch feeling the same giddy kind of dread she associated with dates in high school. Until her late twenties, Jun had not contacted her at all. Then it had happened by chance that the two were asked to present together on a domestic violence panel. ...

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Chapter 20

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pp. 172-177

Elinore knew her mother. Speeding away from the restaurant and down the hill into the Valley, she pictured Hideko: anxious to be relieved of childcare duties, she’d have tidied up Naoko’s messes made from an afternoon full of activities and would be pacing the halls with a very tired baby, ready to see her daughter back home. ...

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Chapter 21

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pp. 178-185

“Nothing.” It didn’t matter that she’d spent the late afternoon doing everything she could not to think about her lunch with Melissa and trying to avoid her father’s inevitable questioning of her. If she walked away, she knew he’d pursue her, probably even follow her to the bathroom, until she relented. “She was very nice.” ...

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Chapter 22

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pp. 186-198

The street outside the Yano’s house had already filled with cars, forcing Melissa to park almost a block away after fighting the urge to turn around and head home. The memorial service had been a disaster, just like she sensed it would be, and she wasn’t in the mood to see anyone; but even more than that, she didn’t want to be seen. ...

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Chapter 23

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pp. 199-202

Early into the morning of November twentieth, while Yukari dreamt she was chasing a young Nora around the backyard of a house she couldn’t recognize, a patrol car pulled Joaquin Siler over on Terra Bella, just past the intersection of Laurel Canyon Blvd. ...

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Chapter 24

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pp. 203-214

Had Wade been better able to assess his wife’s mental state, he would have recognized that even before her pregnancy Caroline had not been right. It wasn’t more time alone she needed, not more sleep. Unable to extricate her needs from his own, he prescribed for her the things he himself could have used. ...

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Chapter 25

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pp. 215-224

Detective Gomez was the one who came for him. “You’re under arrest for aggravated assault in connection with the disappearance of Nora Yano,” he said, turning Joaquin around to cuff him after flashing his badge. ...

Book Five

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pp. 225-226

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Chapter 26

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pp. 227-238

The thought of handling meat made Caroline sick to her stomach, but she chose a small pot roast for Wade. Wanting their first New Year’s Eve as a married couple to be remembered as special, she slow cooked the roast with a medley of potatoes and carrots for color, and she sent Wade to the bakery for dessert ...

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Chapter 27

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pp. 239-248

To celebrate Mark’s passing the state Bar exam, Melissa planned a date: the movie they’d been wanting to see, followed by a late dinner. Unfortunately, however, the movie was no longer showing, and they arrived at the restaurant out of sorts, neither of them particularly hungry, for lack of an alternate plan. ...

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Chapter 28

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pp. 249-254

Hideko’s Friday afternoon out plan aimed at putting Elinore in better humor had failed, to the point where Elinore suspected that not only had she been a bad mother, but that she’d brought irreconcilable problems into her parents’ lives as well as her daughter’s. ...

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Chapter 29

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pp. 255-263

Elinore invited Melissa to lunch, and this time she named the spot: Tommy’s hamburger stand on Roscoe Boulevard because she remembered eating there once and it would be convenient for Melissa, whose appointments that day were along a stretch of the 405 freeway in the Valley. ...

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Chapter 30

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pp. 264-271

Caroline’s labor began in the middle of the night, a nagging at her insides while she dreamt she was barrel riding down a waterfall at Magic Mountain holding her breath, trying to convince herself that the ride should be fun. The clock read 3:16, but it took a minute to realize where she was. ...

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Chapter 31

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pp. 272-278

At night, the names circled like ravens overhead and Elinore fell asleep counting: Melissa and her parents Asako and Bob Hori, Nora and her parents Yukari and Yujitaka Yano, Caroline Noguchi and her parents Teru and Tom Ikeda, and now Caroline’s baby Nora. ...

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Chapter 32

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pp. 279-286

Recovery from a cesarean was more harrowing than anyone could know. Within hours the nurses sat Caroline up and forced her out of bed. When she complained that movement of any sort was painful, they pretended not to hear. One of them even had the nerve to say, “Of course it’s painful,” ...

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Chapter 33

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pp. 287-292

In the center of the carnival grounds, Kevin Nishida began drumming from fifteen feet up. He’d grown taller and more powerful since the last time Melissa had seen him, his stance more solid and sure, his control still remarkable for someone his age. ...

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Chapter 34

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pp. 293-298

Saburo arrived unannounced. On a Sunday. With Hideko out back cooling her plants down after a hot day and Elinore inside getting her daughter changed into pajamas, Naoko began flailing her arms, racing down the hall to the front door, causing Elinore to wonder later how she could have known it was him. ...

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Chapter 35

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pp. 299-301

As the rental car climbed the San Gabriel mountain range out of the Valley, the thermostat rose. Saburo insisted it wasn’t anything to worry about, but Elinore, concerned that the car would overheat, recalled a story she’d once heard about her mother’s parents. ...

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About the Author

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Julie Shigekuni is the author of two previous novels: A Bridge Between Us (Anchor/ Doubleday 1995), which was a finalist for the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Award and recipient of the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature, ...

E-ISBN-13: 9781597091961
E-ISBN-10: 1597091960
Print-ISBN-13: 9781597091220
Print-ISBN-10: 1597091227

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2008

Edition: Second