Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Book Review: Gaijin

Happy hump day!! Honestly, this week is dragging and I'm just trying to get to the weekend, and I hate that every week feels like that. 

Today I have a rather interesting book for you and it's.... it's a mix of genres and it doesn't really fit into any specific one and I think that's why I wanted to read it. 
Gaijin - Sarah Z. Sleeper
The Japanese word gaijin means "unwelcome foreigner." It's not profanity, but is sometimes a slur directed at non-Japanese people in Japan. My novel is called Gaijin...

Lucy is a budding journalist at Northwestern University and she's obsessed with an exotic new student, Owen Ota, who becomes her lover and her sensei. When he disappears without explanation, she's devastated and sets out to find him. On her three-month quest across Japan she finds only snippets of the elegant culture Owen had described. Instead she faces anti-U.S. protests, menacing street thugs and sexist treatment, and she winds up at the base of Mt. Fuji, in the terrifying Suicide Forest. Will she ever find Owen? Will she be driven back to the U.S.? Gaijin is a coming-of-age story about a woman who solves a heartbreaking mystery that alters the trajectory of her life.
A few things about this one missed the mark for me, the biggest one being the "relationship" between Lucy and Owen. I went into this thinking they were engaged or on the bring of that, or even a new but passionate love affair with promise of budding into something more. Basically, I thought there must be some kind of deep emotional connection to warrant a  young woman to basically drop her life, move across the world to Japan to look for this man. Instead, she really just had a crush on him and they kissed once but barely? I mean, if some guy just suddenly stopped talking to me at that point I'd think maybe I was a bad kisser and that's that. 

Nope. Not Lucy. So Lucy ups and moves. She embarks on this journey of sorts and though the book is kind of set up like this journey for love, it quickly became clear the intent of the book is maybe something different entirely. A lot of focus was put into the anti-US protests, about Okinawa, the US military presence there but also the inevitable tensions that could be because of all of that. Once I got my mind shifted out of the romance lane and into the mystery but also modern day history lesson, I felt like I was really liking this book. 

Except... I felt like it didn't hit the mark quite like it could have. For example, its almost toward the end of the book where one of the characters we meet, Hisashi, makes a statement about Okinawa being largely forgotten and exploited because of the US military being there and Japan as a whole largely ignoring the Japanese people there, and THAT felt like it could have been a key piece of the book. I'm a little on the fence about the piece about the Suicide Forest because on one hand, as a person I am deeply intrigued by this. I know that this place exists, I know why people make this pilgrimage and I once saw a show that did a short piece on the forest and I can't remember anything other than the fact people that go in often line their shoes up at the beginning, sometimes with a note. One image was an entire family's shoes and some of them were so little. So as I'm reading this book, I'm thinking of that image in my head and I don't know, it almost feels wrong to go in to look for someone... or something. It feels like such an intensely personal decision to go in knowing your intent is to not come out, and knowing people would just go traipsing in there looking for you. 

Now, even with all of this, I'm still giving this a solid 4 stars because I could really relate to the feeling of things not turning out the way you planned. A lot of us have experienced plans being changed or life bottoming out on us and suddenly we're midstream having to turn it around, but at the same time figure out a bigger game plan. I could really understand Lucy's struggle to navigate Japan as it is, but doing it in the middle of this crisis, finding out that what you're looking for might not end well, and then wondering what next? What do you do with the answer you find at the end? 

I loved the writing of this. Though there were a few slow slumps for me, it just read nicely and for the most part I got through this one quickly. I think if you're interested in Japanese culture in general or investigating things on your own, this would be a great book for you. If you are looking for light and fluffy, maybe not the best pick right now. 

A huge thank you to Running Wild Press for sending me a copy for review! The author, Sarah Z. Sleeper, was also featured on Authors Answer recently and if you're interested in checking that out, you can find it HERE

1 comment:

Why Girls Are Weird said...

Sounds like a book I may eventually want to check out. I'll add it to my Goodreads.