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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Book Review: Midori by Moonlight

Book Review: Midori by Moonlight






Midori by Moonlight
Midori by Moonlight
by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga
St Martin's
ISBN 0312372612
192 pp

Though a few details in the novel don’t quite jibe, Midori by Moonlight is a fun and perceptive read. The story begins with 30-year-old Midori having just arrived in San Francisco from Fukuoka to live in the US “for good." She is at the magnificent home of her fiancĂ© Kevin, and only barely competent in English. The first sign of trouble comes in the form of an ex-girlfriend at their engagement party--with whom Kevin disappears for most of the party.
By Japanese standards, Midori is already a bit long in the tooth. When Kevin, a monolingual English teacher who spends a year in Fukuoka to "forget," proposes to her after only several dates, she almost immediately accepts. This is in part because her concerned parents arranged a devious attempt at omiai (arranged marriage), which totally backfires.
Back in San Francisco at the party, Kevin dumps Midori for the former girlfriend, leaving her with nowhere to go, sixty days left on her visa, and her life plan in tatters. Fortunately for her, the one Japanese person she met at the party passed along a business card—and thus the novel continues.
Kevin’s aristocratic and efficient mother puts Midori up in a swish downtown hotel until her return flight, thus cleaning up the mess her son has created. What will Midori do? A return trip to Japan, tail between her proverbial legs, would bring shame on both her and her parents. It would be a complete failure, and doom her to returning to the omiai circuit in perhaps a distant city where the news of her failed non-marriage to a gaijin would not be discovered.
Without giving away too much, Midori, through pluck and luck and a talent at making desserts, finds her way. And the reader is pulled along by her winning combination of innocence and determination.
The “problems” in the book are minor. However, they grated a bit. First is Kevin. There are many Kevins, to be sure, both in Japan and abroad. However, this Kevin was born into a multi-millionaire family. He lives in a house in San Francisco with an elevator, many rooms, and a full-time maid. This is all fine and well; however, his future plan is to “become an English teacher at a university” in the US.
In the real world, this would mean teaching classes part-time at San Francisco State for $9 an hour, no benefits. In his world, this is never going to happen.
Second is a pivotal conversation Midori has with her post-Kevin roommate, who is also Japanese. Like her, he fled Japan for the US. His reason for doing so was mainly because of the suicide of his older brother. The brother did not pass his university exams and threw himself under a train. As a result, the family is—on top of its grief—forced to pay the train company for the inconvenience the death caused other passengers. Midori is stunned by this.
Anyone in Japan over the age of 15 is aware of this fact of life; it is part of "common sense" in Japan that if you commit suicide by jumping in front of a train your family will be forced to pay the railway company. If you do so at rush hour, you will pay more.
Third are the details of Midori's life. For someone who knows little or nothing of modern Japanese women, her character is illuminating; for anyone, however, who has spent time in Japan, she comes pretty close to the staple characters of tv shows and women’s magazines, gaijin bars and online dating.
Having said that, though, this book was thoroughly enjoyable and would be perfect as a film.

Reviewed by C. Ogawa

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