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Book Review: Kobe Blue

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    The following book review was submitted by Scott Urista. The author of the book is Christopher Johnson, a freelance journalist who has threatened Japan Probe because our blog posts asked questions about confusing edits and inconsistencies in some of Johnson’s articles.



    Kobe Blue: Danger in the Land of Safety
    by Christopher Johnson
    Self-published (Smashwords)
    Published: Oct 18, 2012
    ASIN: B009T936HW
    270 pages (est.)

    Throughout history there have always been groups of people that have enjoyed positions of privilege, be it due to circumstance or mere good fortunate: The scribes in ancient Egypt, the manor lords of feudal Europe, the early capitalists in 18th century England.

    But you would be hard-pressed to find a more ridiculously (and completely unjustifiably) over-privileged class of people than the Caucasian male in 1980s Japan. Anyone that has set foot in Japan has either experienced first-hand or at least heard about the `easy money, easy women’ gigolo-esque lifestyles of the blue-eyed, fair-skinned lucky men living there during the Bubble years.

    In some respects, I don’t think this was mere happenstance: my (probably half-baked) armchair analysis goes like this: Japan spent the first few decades after WWII rebuilding itself, both physically (bombed-out cities) and psychologically (losing the war, the Occupation). Of course, we all know what happened next: the `Japanese economic miracle’; over 30 years of unprecedented economic growth. By the 1970s Japan trailed only the US and the Soviet Union in GNP.

    Here’s the other important part of the equation: By and large it was Japan’s women that did the interacting. Japan’s men were still away from home for long hours, `working’ (i.e., spending their evenings in a drunken stupor in hostess clubs or other establishments of ill-repute). It was Japan’s women that had the time and now the cash to spend, just as foreign goods and traveling overseas was getting cheaper and cheaper (see Accord, Plaza). It was Japan’s women that started taking tennis lessons, traveling abroad, first to Asia resorts then stretching their legs to Europe, then going back to Japan and deciding that they needed to learn English before their next trip. Bingo–you have your eikaiwa boom, and with it growing demand for English-speaking talking heads.

    No doubt it was heady times for the young Western male in Japan in the late 1980s. Some men, of course, started to believe their own press clippings about how sugoi they were because they happened to be born in an English-speaking country (they were in for a rude awakening when the bubble burst and the economy soured). But it’s perhaps no surprise (although still a bit sad) that so many gaijin veterans of the 1980s Bubble still look on that time as the best time of their life.

    Which, in a somewhat roundabout way, brings us to Kobe Blue, the second work of fiction by Christopher J. Johnson (self-published, Smashwords.com). Kobe Blue is the tale of not one, but two young American men and their experiences in Bubble and post-Bubble Japan.

    In some ways this was a frustrating book to read, and an even more frustrating book to review.

    Frustrating, because first and foremost, it is clear that as a writer of fiction, Johnson has talent and substantial (untapped) potential. He has a writer’s eye for detail and the chops to put what his mind sees to paper. In the best spots the writing has a sublime, natural flow. Johnson by all account is well-traveled, and apparently does a lot of travelog-related writing, and it shows: he excels at descriptions–sometimes just quick five-note riffs (`the funeral pyre of (Japanese grammar) books’, `Everyone’s meditating on planet me’), but Johnson is at his best in longer solo jams when he’s setting a scene, a place, a mood.

    Now, sometimes too much of a good thing is…too much. I fully understand that opinion will be divided on this, but I personally found that reading paragraph after paragraph of text dripping with metaphors and similes got tiresome after a while. (I was reminded somewhat of the `too many notes’ line from Amadeus; obviously a flawed analogy because while he has talent as a writer of fiction, Johnson is not yet a Mozart….but hopefully you get my point).

    Further, it must be said that if descriptions are Johnson’s strong points, he needs to work on speech: much of the dialogue lacked any sense of pacing or authenticity (at one point one of the Japanese characters calls himself `Yamaguchi-san’). This often broke the spell woven by the preceding paragraphs that had set the stage. There were exceptions, of course: one of my favorite scenes from the book was between Kurisu and Jonathan, talking about the contrast between random English conversation between two gaijin strangers on a train, and an English conversation between a gaijin and a Japanese. Equal parts ironic, humorous and poignant, it once again showed the author’s eye for interesting detail.

    But overall, I actually found the writing rather uneven…so uneven, in fact, that part of me wonders if Kobe Blue actually began life intending to be a book. Parts of it feel like bits and pieces from different times and places were cobbled together; that it still works as a story at all is testament to the underlying quality of the writing and the potential of the story.

    More problematic, however, was the story structure. The book is supposed to be about both a `nostalgic look’ at Bubble Era Japan and international relationships in `consumerist societies and over-crowded cities’, based on `real experiences’.

    As noted above, the book is about the experiences of two young American men that arrive in the late 1980s, right in the middle of the Japan bubble: `Jonathan’, shy and unpopular back home, finds he is a rock star with Japanese women as an English teacher in Japan; he spends most of the book bedding Japanese women, seemingly a different woman each night. `Kurisu’ – a Japanized version of the author’s name – is the upstanding citizen that doesn’t play around; a major chunk of the book is focused on his relationship with his girlfriend (or is she?). Given that they have the same names, it is tempting to equate Kurisu with the experiences of the author, although I suspect that the author is probably both Kurisu and Jonathan.

    Part of the problem I think starts right at the beginning: The book plops Kurisu down in Japan with almost no background story, no foundation to understand where Kurisu is coming from. In fact, much more background material is given for Jonathan than for Kurisu (another reason that I suspect Jonathan is perhaps more relevant to the extent that the author’s experiences made it into the book). There is even some back history for some of Jonathan’s one-night sexcapade partners, even when very little is given for Kurisu, who ostensibly is supposed to be the main character in the book.

    I say `ostensibly’, because it’s hard to tell if Kurisu is the main character or not. His story does account for the majority of the plot, and the book starts off in the first person, written from Kurisu’s point of view. But then it shifts to third-person for major chunks of the book, mostly relating to Jonathan’s sexual conquests – just how does Kurisu get to know the backstories of some of Jonathan’s numerous sex partners and the intimate details of what Jonathan does with each of them? In fact practically the entire middle third of the book reads like a soft-porn novel, a Fifty Shades of Japan Grey for the Bubble-era gaijin, profiling Jonathan’s conquests. If this was used as a contrast to some semblance of growth or development for either Jonathan or Kurisu, it would be understandable…but with no apparent purpose other than nostalgic titillation, it detracts from whatever underlying message the story was supposed to have.

    More frustrating is that Kurisu seems to land in Japan with a vast database of Japan knowledge and experience already intact: on his very first train-ride from Osaka to Kobe on just his second day in Japan, Kurisu talks about the `nostalgia’ surrounding Amagasaki, Nishinomiya and Koshien Stadium. He arrives in Japan determined `not to become an English teacher’. It rather begs some questions – why (how) did he have this preconceived notion of the eikaiwa industry in Japan? How did Kurisu intend on supporting himself in Japan? We don’t know, partially because we have no backstory (what did he study at university? For that matter, did he even go to university?) It’s hard to develop a story arch of the protagonist learning about Japan when he arrives in the country apparently having already lived it.

    Happily the latter question of how Kurisu can support himself is conveniently answered by having him, on the morning of his very first full day in Japan, meet an attractive, single Japanese women that is not only completely fluent in English, but that also immediately invites him to stay with her, rent-free, for apparently years on end, at her home where she lives with her mother. Because, you know, Japanese women did this all the time for guys that seemed to be `a decent sort’. These sorts of `plausibility fails’ definitely detract from the reader’s experience.

    The timeline of the story is equally confusing. Somewhat perplexingly, we learn how old Kurisu is near the end of the book, but we don’t really know how old he is when he gets to Japan. It’s perplexing, because based on the numerous historical events that are noted in the book, Kurisu apparently spends at least five or six years in Japan, yet the story is written as if it takes place in the span of a year or so. The timeline of the book is a helter’s skelter mess – in some parts of the book, years just melt away – not only with no explanation, but no mention of the shift in time or reference to what happened in the interim. It also sometimes results in clear timeline errors; at one point in the book Jonathan’s boss decides she can fire him because he’s still in the six-month probationary period, but by that part of the book Kurisu and Jonathan had to have been working at the eikaiwa company for at least eight months.

    Too often, the reader is jarred back to reality by some inconsistency, then has to do the mental gymnastics to keep everything in place. Rarely is it a good idea to force the reader to work at having to make the logical leaps of faith to save some semblance of plausibility for the book.

    Jonathan and Kurisu are polar opposites in terms of their personal relationships in Japan; normally you’d expect this to be the main story arch. But at the end of the book, both Kurisu and Jonathan appear to be the same persons they were on the day they got to Japan. Whatever momentary flashes of growth (particularly for Kurisu – climbing Fuji-san, a 10-day meditation retreat) are swallowed up by eikaiwa classes, going through the motions as a `sarariman’, or pachinko. Even Kurisu’s core relationship in the book with Aki fails to develop that much from the day Kurisu arrives at her house. The only exception being we get more background for Aki (more, in fact, than we get for Kurisu himself).

    It’s unclear just what Kurisu and Jonathan learned from their time in Japan other than `you can have sex with lot of Japanese women, and they make great wives because they’ll work hard in the home and won’t complain’.

    And ultimately it’s unclear just what message the reader is going to take from the book. There are at least three distinct storylines in Kobe Blue, none of them really work sufficiently well on their own, and ultimately the whole fails to add up to the sum of the parts.

    It’s a damn shame because Johnson clearly has the talent to do much, much better.

    Looking back at this review, I think it may come across a bit more negative than I had intended. Despite the numerous flaws, I still enjoyed reading the book, and still wanted to know more about Kurisu and Aki (both past and future). That, to me is the sign of a good book. Little can be done to save poor writing; that’s not Johnson’s plight. Rather, like a good catcher can help turn a good pitcher into a great pitcher, I suspect Johnson just needs a good editor to tweak and tighten.

    Intriguingly, the book ends with a fairly massive loose end, which suggests a possible sequel. So let me summarize by saying this: Would I buy and read another novel by Johnson?

    The answer is a definite yes. The potential is clearly there.


    Author Information: Scott Urista has a quarter of a century of experience in Japan. He is an executive director for a major Japanese investment bank. He currently lives in London with his wife, two children and Golden Retriever.

    23 comments - What do you think?  Posted by James - April 19, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    Categories: Books

    Illustrated Diaries Chronicle 56 Years of Life in Japan – Now Available on Amazon.co.jp

    illustrated diary

    illustrated diary

    Back in May of 2011 I blogged about Shouzou Takenami, a 93-year-old resident of Aomori prefecture who has kept an illustrated diary since 1955. In my post, I wrote that I hoped that the diaries would be published. It seems that a lot of Japanese television viewers had the same idea. A compilation of some of Takenami’s most interesting diary entries has been published as a 191 page book:

    Although it only contains a limited selection of entries from Takenami’s set of 2,300 diary notebooks, Customers reviews on Amazon.co.jp are overwhelming positive. According to Wikipedia, over 120,000 copies have been sold.

    Here is a follow-up TV segment about his book:

    In a diary entry about the publishing deal, he has an illustration of himself offering the book as a gift to his deceased wife (who is watching over him from heaven).

    6 comments - What do you think?  Posted by James - January 10, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Categories: Books

    I Am Maru: Famous YouTube Cat’s Book Gets American Release

    The blogger owner of famous YouTube cat Maru is releasing an English language version of her I am Maru Photo book and DVD:

    …here comes an American version of the book I Am Maru, by owner/personal videographer mugumogu, previously published in Japan. It’s due Aug. 23 from William Morrow ($15.99). The U.S. version also features “a special edition inside jacket poster.”

    If you’re unfamiliar with Maru, here are a recent videos:


    And an NHK news report about Maru:

    11 comments - What do you think?  Posted by James - July 10, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Categories: Animal Videos, Books

    [ Book Review ] In Appropriate: A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan

    Here’s a bit of a follow-up to Monday’s “Why I Turned On Debito.org” post:

    Scott, a long-time reader of Japan Probe, has sent us an in-depth review of Debito’s latest book. It’s quite long, but I think this review well worth checking out if you’re interested in racism, child abduction, or any of the other issues that Debito writes about in his blog posts and books.

    [ BEGINNING OF REVIEW ]


    In Appropriate: A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan”
    Book info:
    Available from www.lulu.com, in paperback or e-book.
    ISBN 978-1-257-02640-1
    Published March 7, 2011
    Pages 149
    £9.27 (paperback) / £6.62 (digital download)

    Does the author matter?

    This was the primary question I struggled with while writing this review of In Appropriate, the first work of fiction from Debito Arudou. The author will be well-known to readers of his regular Just Be Cause columns in an independent English daily in Japan. A US-born, naturalized Japanese citizen, Arudou is an associate professor teaching English to Japanese students at a small private university in Hokkaido.

    However, Arudou is more well-known for his role of social activist, fighting for equal rights of non-Japanese living in Japan. Indeed, the first of Arudou’s two non-fiction books was devoted to his first and largest case, the Otaru onsen case (“Japanese Only–The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan”); the book details Arudou’s successful lawsuit against a Hokkaido onsen after being denied entry based on his foreign appearance. His second non-fiction book was an in-depth handbook for newcomers to Japan (“Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan”, co-authored with Akira Higuchi). In Appropriate is Arudou’s first work of fiction.

    Certainly with non-fiction writing, readers reasonably want to know more about the author. Has he or she written anything else? What are the author’s overall views on the subject? Is the author an expert in the field? Who is paying for the work? What possible bias might be involved? All reasonable questions that at first glance would not seem to apply to fiction. Surely in a work of fiction, the story should be allowed to stand on its own.

    And yet, we are always fascinated with the personal lives of authors and writers and singers. This goes beyond just the Entertainment Tonight-esque Hollywood gossip of who’s dating who. Fans love reading ‘slice-of-life’ stories about their favorite author or actor – we want to dig deeper, to unravel what experiences and aspects of the author’s life made their way into our favorite book, our favorite song, our favorite painting.

    In the case of non-fiction, one could say that wanting to know more about the author is reasonable, perhaps even necessary, to judge the book’s objectivity, authenticity, and accuracy. With fiction, one could argue that the author is – while perhaps of great interest to fans – ultimately irrelevant to the quality of the story.

    This, however, is where I ran into a problem. Arudou does clearly state that this is a work of fiction. However, he also goes to great lengths to stress that the story and historical events as portrayed in the book are authentic and accurate (based on real events, including from his own personal experience). Further, the end of the book includes a couple of pages devoted specifically to his website, debito.org, which primarily acts as the headquarters for his activist work. It was this specific and very deliberate blurring of the line between the book as a simple work of fiction and the book as a tool in promoting the author’s activist role that forced me to take a closer look at the book and the story.

    The book tells the tale of Gary Schmidt, a small-town boy from Georgia. Gary begins dating a Japanese exchange student at his local community college and eventually moves to Japan with her after she gets pregnant. At first, all appears to go well: he finds lucrative work as an English teacher, his wife has a second child, he is able to open up his own English conversation school, and he even takes on Japanese citizenship. However, his work gradually dries up in tandem with Japan’s slow economic post-Bubble decline. Facing rising tensions with his conservative father-in-law and increasingly dour work prospects, Gary decides to move back to the US. The rest of the book details the opposition to this plan from his wife’s family and resulting acrimonious divorce, and culminates with his attempt at abducting his children back to the US.

    The story of course bears no small resemblance to the recent widely reported Chris Savoie child abduction case. Chris Savoie was arrested in Japan in 2009 on suspicion of kidnapping while trying to enter the US consulate with his children after his ex-wife (in violation of a US court order) returned to Japan with the children. There are numerous similarities: Both Savoie and Gary are southern US-born, naturalized Japanese citizens. Both fathers go to Japan in an attempt to bring their children back to the US. Both are arrested trying to enter the US consulate in Fukuoka with their children.

    Certainly child abduction is no trivial matter, and Arudou’s plot holds great promise – there was enormous potential for a deep, moving portrait of how families cope with international marriages and divorces. Sadly, In Appropriate suffers on a number of levels.

    Firstly, the book is littered with errors and inconsistencies. Arudou notes that he found writing fiction ‘easy’, and says that he wrote the entire book in less than a week. Unfortunately, it shows – the book is badly in need of an editor (and as is often said: easy writing makes for damn hard reading). At various times in the book the main character forgets how old he is, forgets that he’s never been to Tokyo, and forgets that he’s only made the transpacific flight once. Many of the factual errors are childishly basic that could have been avoided with the most casual of fact-checking.

    Other errors are more problematic: Gary takes on Japanese citizenship because of a “legal requirement to have a Japanese on the board of directors” of the eikaiwa school he is setting up. But this is completely wrong; the only requirement is that at least one of the directors must have an address in, and be a resident of, Japan. If that person is a foreigner, there are some mild restrictions on visa status, but no restrictions if your visa does not restrict your work activity.

    Neither does the story gain many points in authenticity. Upon arriving in Japan, Gary finds a job teaching English within three days and within a year is making $10,000 a month. While English teachers were no doubt making reasonably good money even in the early post-Bubble days – particularly given the lack of experience or actual skill needed to land an eikaiwa job – it is a massive stretch to suggest that English teachers were raking in four times the national average less than year after arriving. This high English teacher salary is used to establish Gary’s credentials as an ‘entrepreneur’ with ‘prodigious business initiative’, which in turn is used by Gary to justify his decision to return to the US, yet even ignoring the fantasy-land income, it hard to see how renting a room to talk in English to Japanese housewives equates to being an ‘entrepreneur’.

    But by far the biggest problem with In Appropriate ties in to the issue of separating the author from the story. As an activist, Arudou fights for equal treatment for all in Japan, yet In Appropriate is shockingly one-sided and heavy-handed in the treatment of Japan and the Japanese characters. In fact, it is no stretch to say that there isn’t a likable Japanese character in the book – the Japanese men are sinister, mean-spirited racists, Japanese women alternate back and forth between being passive robots and sex maniacs.

    It is almost impossible to like the main character: Gary starts out a red-neck racist – he never learned French or Spanish in high school ‘because he has no use for frog or beaner talk’. His main initial interest in the Japanese exchange students is a bet with his other red-neck friends (‘He had plenty of T&A in town and environs, but had never tapped Asian’…’Fifty bucks went to the first person to produce Japanese panties, verifiably scented with poon tang’).

    Normally, this would set us up for a nice development arch: How dating a foreigner and living overseas shapes him, helps him grow as a person, helps him see the good and bad in his new and native country, while also coming to understand his own strengths and weaknesses. That doesn’t happen here – there is no soul-searching, no self-discovery. The story essentially starts and ends with the main character chasing Asian skirt, a flat, one-dimensional character. There was enormous potential to explore any number of fascinating issues. Most interesting to me would have been what goes into the decision to take on the nationality of another country; I was very disappointed to see this topic get such casual treatment.

    Even more troublesome was the book’s main subject: child abduction. The problem is that it was almost impossible to work up any sympathy for Gary and his plight. In the book, Gary’s children have never set foot outside of Japan. They know no life other than in Japan, yet Gary – after making no real attempt to at least get visitation rights following his divorce – sees no problem with literally abducting the children and running away to the US, a foreign land where his children had never lived, knew nobody, and didn’t speak a word of the language.

    Even allowing for this as the plot in a work of fiction, it would have been much better if Gary had at least agonized over the moral issues involved–Gary never even thinks about the fact that he’s completely cutting off the children from their mother, for instance. Do two wrongs make a right? Is he really ‘rescuing’ his children from an unbearable situation? As a single dad in a country he’s never set foot in as an adult, as a college drop out and only 15 years as an English teacher on his resume, will his children really be better of in the US? None of this is mentioned or discussed; instead, Gary rationalizes his decision by saying that he’s ‘ready to be SuperDad’, rescuing his children from the ‘racist, oppressive atmosphere’.

    Herein lies the second major problem: by writing in third-person omniscient, the narrator has a god-like perspective, and is thus able to apply reasons and motives to every person for every action. The result is that Gary comes across as always being pure and noble in his motives, while the motive for every single Japanese character is evil and racist, such as when Gary’s wife objects to his idea of moving back to the US ‘because there are guns and black people’.

    To make matters worse, for a book this short – only 140-odd pages – far too much time is spent on endless background information on the economy, the eikaiwa system, Japan’s penal code. If this much background detail was going to be given, the book needed to be much, much longer to fully flesh out the Japanese characters and make them a bit more human. Surely a father can not like the idea of his daughter marrying some unemployed college drop-out American who doesn’t speak a word of Japanese without being racist. Certainly a wife can be against the idea of relocating to a country she barely knows and where her husband’s work prospects are dim at best without being racist or irrational.

    The story cries for some nuance and shape, but sadly the characters never even develop beyond cardboard cut-outs of stereotypes. And the sad truth is that Gary never develops into a likable person, mainly because we see nothing in the book that suggests that he works at being a good father, husband, or son-in-law. Gary barely remembers his mother-in-law’s name. When work is slow at the eikaiwa school for days on end, Gary spends the time surfing the net and hooking up with friends back home, even as he notes that he is missing his son’s and daughter’s childhood. Despite the father-in-law keeping Gary’s eikaiwa school afloat with frequent cash infusions, we see no signs that Gary is appreciative or that he realizes that perhaps his ‘prodigious business initiative’ wasn’t quite as prodigious as he thought.

    The book is not without its high points. The plot device itself is deftly handled; the present day plot is neatly intertwined with back-story material. There are sections that are quite well-written; Gary’s frantic dash to the Fukuoka consulate was tight, taut writing with excellent pace – regardless of what you thought about Gary’s motives and whether he was morally in the right or not, no father could read that section without getting a lump in the throat.

    Sadly, these sections are the exception. Rather than write in fine nuances and grays, it is unfortunate that Arudou chose to write with a sledgehammer instead, because there is definitely an interesting story lurking underneath. The crash of the bubble economy, the Kobe earthquake and Aum Shinrikyo sarin attack, the Asia Financial Crisis and crash of Yamaichi, PM Koizumi and (short-lived, alas) signs that Japan’s younger population might grow an interest in politics….the last 20-odd years would make for a fascinating backdrop for a story on the internationalization of Japan and what it means for families and children of international marriages.

    Instead, I suspect that Arudou’s focus was not on the plot or character development, but instead was on trying to make points already spelled out in ample detail on his website. As a result, In Appropriate comes across as an overly mean-spirited and one-sided affair that doesn’t really work as fiction, and certainly goes against Arudou’s activist mantra of ‘fair treatment’.

    I would look forward to more fiction from Arudou, but here’s hoping his next book takes longer than four days to write.


    Contributor Bio: Scott Urista has a quarter of a century of experience in Japan. He is an executive director for a major Japanese investment bank. He currently lives in London with his wife, two-year old son and Golden Retriever.

    [ END OF REVIEW ]

    UPDATE: The author of the book has responded to this review.

    Arudou Debito here.  Thanks to Scott Urista for the review of my book IN APPROPRIATE.  It’s much more in-depth and thought-out (not to mention less nasty) than the one he originally posted on the publisher’s site.  I appreciate him taking the time and making the effort.  Thanks.  

    Let me comment about the review:

    I don’t mind a negative review.  As a writer, all I really want is to be read.  And if reviewed, I really want the reviewer to 1) clearly demonstrate that he’s read the book, 2) review the book (i.e., not me as a person), 3) offer constructive critique (i.e., offer his opinion about the strengths and weaknesses of aspects of the work), and if possible 4) place it in some context (e.g., the “realness” of the story, the power of the points or the images presented, the aims of the book, this book in terms of the progression of the writer’s other works, etc.)

     

    Clearly Mr. Urista made a decent attempt, satisfying many of the needs of critique above and gave his personal opinion about the book (however disfavorable).  He gave concrete reasons why he liked this but not that, made clear his analytical tools, and said whether IN APPROPRIATE was worth reading or not.  Clearly he advises against doing so, which is his prerogative.

     

    However, Mr. Urista also spent quite a bit of time talking about me (reviewers for some reason too often review me as a person more than the work itself), so that’s a bit disappointing — mainly because there’s not much that I (let alone the potential reader) can learn from that.  He seems to have a hard time separating me as a narrator (the narrator of the book is NOT me, remember, and (“third-person omniscient” is by no means a given) and it would have been helpful for him to realize that the tone is a departure from my usual writing.  Many people, including this reviewer, seem to miss this point, but IN APPROPRIATE is a work of fiction.

     I wanted to step outside myself and stretch my legs, portraying a worldview that was different than mine — that of Gary Schmidt and the world he created around him – including his shortcomings.  Gary is, quite frankly, a person I did not like all that much, and did not find (or intend for other people to find) to be a sympathetic character. 

    In a word, Gary is a loser.  You watch him crash and burn because he’s dumb at times he shouldn’t be.  And the characters around him in the book are underdeveloped not only because Gary can’t wrap his head around them, but also because they themselves don’t let him in, as he’s seen as an interloper in the family.  The point is, Gary is isolated, *doesn’t* grow enough, and that becomes his fatal flaw for continued life in Japan.

    You can critique Gary in terms of “accuracy”, fine — and in that respect I do know people like him; one friend said that he meets barflies like him grumbling away in drinking dives around the world.  But if you’re critiquing Gary (and, by extension, the author) in terms of “likeability”, then that is a matter of taste, and the reviewer should recognize that as his own shortcoming instead of claiming it as an analytical tool. (I shudder to think what the reviewer would have said about “Portnoy’s Complaint” when it first came out; if he had the final say, Philip Roth would have never gone on to win all his awards.)

    For that reason, the reviewer’s antipathy towards the author blinds his reading of IN APPROPRIATE, demonstrable when he ignores other themes running throughout.  What about The Eye as social control, the aspects of child abduction and police incarceration, the Bubble Years (where, yes, it WAS possible for people to get that rich that quickly in those years) and how the system went sour, etc.?  Even the paragraph he devotes to an alleged error, the need for Japanese on a corporate board of directors, is based upon a true story in Sapporo, where a NJ friend of mine between 1993 and 1995 was bankrupted because of oddly-enforced directives requiring him to have a Japanese on the board AND two local hires.  I meet and talk to a lot of people, and many more send me their sob stories; everything in the book is based upon something that happened to somebody somewhere.

    To be fair to Mr. Urista’s thoroughness, he did contact me beforehand, saying, “I have written a formal book review for publication, but before I submit it, I would like to give you a chance to respond to some of the key issues I see with the book.”  Then instead of sending me his points, he sent me four links to Tepido.org, a stalker site which, sorry, on principle I will not visit.  Moreover, this was after he had sent some angry comments to Debito.org, plus that even nastier book review at my publisher’s site.  So I decided Mr. Urista was a crank and let it go.  Then he gave this thoughtful review, which, again, I appreciate.  Thanks very much. 

    Sorry for thinking you were a crank.

    Again, I don’t mind a negative review.  I’ve had them before, and I might even learn from them as I begin to stretch my legs into more fiction.  But I hope that people will give IN APPROPRIATE a chance with a read of their own, understanding that one person’s opinion (particularly a reviewer whose Linkedin Profile shows his qualification as ten years of financial managerial analysis currently from London, but not divorce in Japan, child abductions, criminal incarceration, or even book reviewing) is not the last word on the subject.  I hope readers will read IN APPROPRIATE for themselves and decide.  More positive reviews at http://www.debito.org/inappropriate.html  

    Thanks as always to everyone for reading and for devoting your attention to topics I bring up.  Arudou Debito

    94 comments - What do you think?  Posted by James - May 25, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    Categories: Books, Foreigners in Japan

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