June’s California Book Club selection, Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, asks its readers what future generations owe to the violence of the past.
In the novel, Grace Park, a Korean American woman in Los Angeles, is confronted with her family’s dark past. She realizes that her mother may have been involved in a tragedy nearly three decades earlier, when a Black teenage girl named Ava Matthews was shot by a storekeeper. In writing about this, Cha drew from the murder of Latasha Harlins, whose death, in 1991, came 13 days after the beating of Rodney King.
For those who have been reading along with the CBC since its first few selections, the events and themes of Your House Will Pay may seem to echo those of one of our other selections. In March 2021, the CBC read Southland, Nina Revoyr’s 2003 novel about race, family, and murder. Like Cha’s book, Southland is a multigenerational crime novel driven by the curiosity of a young Asian American woman. While mourning her grandfather’s death, protagonist Jackie Ishida uncovers a terrible murder that occurred one night during the 1965 Watts Rebellion, six days of protests in Los Angeles spurred by racist police violence. During the rebellion, 34 people were killed—most of them Black people killed by law enforcement—making it the most violent protest in Los Angeles, until the L.A. uprising of 1992. Both books feature a secondary protagonist, a Black man with familial ties to the tragedy and the trauma that comes with it. And like Cha, Revoyr grounds her fictional characters in L.A. history, particularly moments of state- or city-sanctioned violence that haunt the present.
The two books take place on different timelines and were published 16 years apart, but the ways that they connect—both with each other and with related histories—are unmistakable. Cha’s book jumps between 1991 and 2019. Many of the moments of L.A. history that develop protagonist Grace Park’s social consciousness throughout the book, including the fictionalized murder of Ava, have yet to occur in portions of Southland. Revoyr’s book shifts perspective and time periods, traveling back to Crenshaw in the 1940s and through Japanese American internment camps, convenience stores, and community centers in the 1990s.
“The whole way the book is set up is as a way to essentially force her to become exposed to her own family history,” Revoyr said of her protagonist, Jackie, at the California Book Club in March 2021. “In doing so, it changes her, because she is kind of a lost child, almost an orphan from history.” Like Jackie, Grace in Cha’s novel can be seen as an orphan from history. Both characters have to be shaken from their constructed reality to uncover their family histories; for Grace, it takes another act of violence close to home.
That said, each book pays attention to the unique histories of the Los Angeles communities it chronicles. In Your House Will Pay, Ava’s death and the subsequent disproportionate impact of the 1992 L.A. uprising on Koreatown contribute to distrust between Korean American and Black communities. Meanwhile, in Southland, Japanese American internment and World War II displace family and communities, and Revoyr explores friendship, love, and tension between Japanese American and Black Angelenos.
“All cities are imaginary cities. We have to imagine them even when we live in them, because their pasts are not evident to us,” CBC host John Freeman said at Revoyr’s event. “The language in which the past speaks sometimes needs interpretation.” Family, mystery, investigation, loss, even romance—these are Revoyr’s and Cha’s tools of interpretation and the shared themes of Southland and Your House Will Pay.
The authors are fans of each other and the ways their books connect. Last year, Revoyr called Your House Will Pay one of her favorite books to come out of California and the West. As Cha wrote in the acknowledgments of Your House Will Pay, “Nina’s Southland is the novel that made this novel feel possible.”•
We’re excited to introduce funny, accomplished crime author and Literary Disco podcaster Tod Goldberg as the special guest for our June California Book Club event on June 16 at 5 p.m. to discuss Cha’s novel Your House Will Pay. Goldberg has published more than a dozen books, including Gangsterland and, most recently, The Low Desert: Gangster Stories. Please visit the Alta Clubhouse to discuss Cha’s book. Register for the upcoming Zoom conversation here.
STYLISH NOIR STORIES
Read The Low Desert: Gangster Stories by Tod Goldberg, our special guest for Steph Cha’s event. Author and journalist Richard Rayner says of the collection, “These stories play genres with an expert’s hand, and a sometimes surprising sad music.” —Alta
Goldberg wrote a potent essay about the grace and literature of the Salton Sea. —Alta
Alta Journal associate editor Ajay Orona recommends four titles for after you finish Your House Will Pay. —Alta
WRITING A BOOK BACKWARD
National Book Award winner Robin Benway talks to Maret Orliss about her YA novel A Year to the Day, which is told in reverse chronological order. —Alta
Stanford anthropology professor T.M. Luhrmann explores the effect of coaches’ voices on athletes’ minds and performance (for better or worse). —Harper’s Magazine
LIVING AMID DISASTER
Bay Area–raised writer Nishant Batsha pens an essay on writing a climate fiction book—“fiction that understands that the only constant is collapse”—without realizing it. —Literary Hub
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