Caught between cultures: Comments on 'American Fuji'
|Patricia Bazin, one of many readers who took up The Advertiser Book Club's invitation to read Sara Backer's "American Fuji," said the novel addressed feelings similar to her own after she moved to Hawai'i.
Richard Ambo The Honolulu Advertiser
"This was a great book to pick for a Hawai'i book club. Many Japanese Americans growing up in Hawai'i (I can't speak for other parts of the United States) are taught about admirable aspects of being Japanese, (such as) to be Japanese is to be hard-working, honest and educated. Customs that were not so admirable in American society, e.g., lack of directness and closed-mindedness, were never pointed out.
"Until I lived in Japan, I felt very Japanese. After living in Japan, I realized I am an American and very proud to be an American. It was very hard to communicate this to family and friends. That is why I enjoyed 'American Fuji' so much. It honestly illustrates the beauty as well as the idiosyncrasies (from an American point of view) of Japanese society."
Sherri Evans, Herndon, Va.
"A first-rate suspense novel, in which cultural differences between Americans and Japanese are illustrated through the two languages. The unlikely situation of an American woman professor coping with the underbelly of Japanese society is made credible and entertaining. Expertly plotted, interesting characters with humorous dialogue, and an appropriate resolution, even though at the summit of Mt. Fuji. Gaby was perceptive, likable, though almost unnaturally adaptable. Alex was changed more by Gaby's kindness than by being in Japan. Mr. Eguchi and Rie were lovable; Michael and Lester, exasperatingly male. I would recommend this book as a good read. ... I would not have read this book without your notice. Please continue The Advertiser Book Club."
Eloise Van Niel, Honolulu
"A wonderfully insightful and thoughtful look at the Japanese culture from an outsider's perspective. I was pleasantly surprised to read complex and thought-provoking illustrations of the culture rather than simplistic, one-dimensional descriptions that are often the case in culture-based novels. Interesting story and plot, I enjoyed the book very much."
Diane Padilla, Fremont, Calif.
"I am Japanese American, yet I had no idea about the cultural differences in handling problems in Japan until my son spent a year in Japan. While reading her book, I kept telling myself, 'Yes, yes, that's exactly how the Japanese in Japan deal with unpleasant situations, by pretending they don't exist!' I hope Ms. Backer will write a sequel to 'American Fuji.' "
"Gaby's love-hate relationship with Japan is understandable. Using her impressive knowledge of the provincial culture and the Japanese language, the author enables the reader to feel keenly the humiliations that Gaby must put up with as a single female, but she is also able to convey the endearing ways of the Japanese that make it hard to leave. The 'No, I don't like natto' automatic response even before being asked seemed a little harsh but on the other hand, the 'I-am-a-pen, you-are-a-pen, we-are-pens' recitations of the taxi driver are hilarious and true."
G. M. LaRiviere, Hilo
"I wonder how the Japanese would regard the novel, since it seemed rather negative in places and did not make me want to visit there. However, being realistic about a country's shortcomings in fiction is commendable.
"Being more or less in the mystery genre, it did not have much character development, and the romance was pretty tepid and obligatory. I thought the climb up Mt. Fuji well described and a fitting end for this good first novel."
Joan Packer, Waikiki
I enjoyed reading 'American Fuji.' At first, I thought that Japanese readers would be offended. Then, I could see the lesson coming through. I think that most people look at life through their own culture and life experience. It is important to get beyond that and appreciate and enjoy the differences."
Chris Connacher, Federal Way, Wash.
"A great story which I read in four days, as I couldn't put it down. I could sympathize with the teacher in the story, as I was one of two haoles teaching in Pearl City in the late '50s, and I decided if I was going to be accepted, I would have to accept the ways of the people there."
Nancy Null, Tacoma, Wash.
"I lived on Okinawa for one year and in mainland Japan (45 minutes from Tokyo) for one year, so could relate so much to this book. I could not put the book down because it had so many twists and turns, and could not wait to find out at the end how it would all come together. ... I must say that I did not have as hard a time as Alex, but it was very frustrating at times, and I can put it into perspective a lot more clearly after reading this book."
Marcia Myers, Kahala
"Absolutely loved it ... didn't want it to end ... cried when Alex met Aoshima on Mt. Fuji. ... don't think it was stereotypical but typical. ... I have taught English as a second language and also am aware of Japanese culture, and think this is somewhat true. ... Gender issues are also explored. ... Did you realize a Japanese person who speaks English can tell if the person learned (Japanese) from a male or female native speaker?"
Ruth Larkin, Pahoa
"I would like to read comments by Asians about their reaction to the book. After living in Hawai'i for 30 years as a Caucasian, now I understand why I feel like she did living in another culture still a stranger and remaining one. However, I would like to know what others think of her assessment. The book reads like a Nancy Drew mystery simple and fast reading. I enjoyed it, in a superficial way."
Slahr (last name, city unknown)
"As a Japanese American who taught in Japan for two years, I opened the book a bit warily, questioning how Backer would weave her experiences as a teacher into a mystery story. The rather surreal opening chapter, with its description of a fantasy funeral, raised my apprehension about the novel. However, I soon found myself chuckling at the numerous descriptions of the questions Japanese ask foreigners ('Does she eat natto?') and the peculiarities of Japanese manners (the elevator operator speaking in 'a voice higher than helium') and mores (a society based on reciprocity). While much of this might be taken as Japan-bashing, they are right on the money.
"When I was in Japan during the mid-'80s, many Japanese, especially in the smaller towns and rural areas, seemed quite ethnocentric and in need of confirmation of their superiority and uniqueness by proving the inability of foreigners to assimilate completely into their culture.
"(Gaby Stanton) has become fluent in nuances, 'what is not said.' However, we gradually begin to suspect that she may not be as reliable an interpreter of Japanese manners and mores as she thinks she is. In fact, toward the end of the novel, she discovers how much she still doesn't understand and how caught she is between two cultures. In the process, however, she comes to understand more about herself.
"All in all, 'American Fuji' is a story that anyone can appreciate, although it is even more of a seriocomedy if one has experienced life in Japan firsthand."
Christine Guro, Ka'a'awa
"This book has an immediacy that's created, in part, by intimate moments between characters, where they chip away at one another's secrets and inhibitions. It also has almost universal appeal because of many hilarious scenes and conversations. These scenes were placed near the beginning and 'hooked' me."
Mary Moon, Los Angeles (moving back to O'ahu ... can't wait!)
"LOVE the book, so far. But just had to write because our Fulbright Memorial Fund teachers' group last October had the SAME experience (as on Page 37) of having to introduce ourselves at every school we visited. Nervous, awkward, mispronouncing, written on our hands or on a notecard, we all had to say... (as Jeff did) 'Watashi wa Wisconsin no baas desu. Dozo yoroshiku onegai shimasu.'
Eagerly reading on. ..."
Marilyn Morikawa, Pukalani
"My interest in and knowledge of Japan is not casual; my son lives there, has for 20 years, with his Japanese wife and three half-Japanese children.
"I enjoyed 'American Fuji' so much I didn't want it to end. It not only gives the reader delicious characters to savor, it provides friends who are hard to let go. And while it captures the idiosyncrasies of the Japanese, which make them difficult people to deal with. It also shows us graphically why it is worth it to try."
Ursula Harris, Reno, Nev.
"I hope there aren't too many people here in Hawai'i who think (the book) is putting Japanese people down, as I suspect there may be some. I think it's a good read and a good piece of fiction, and the subtle humor is great, too!"
Diane Young, Honolulu
I thought "American Fuji "had a good storyline. It was both entertaining and educational. I liked how the author portrayed the foreign characters as they try to overcome the cultural differences that they experienced. Having read the book gave me an insight of what I might expect should I ever visit Japan. I learned a great deal about the Japanese culture. The author uses both wit and humor to bring the characters to life. The only thing that I didn't like about the book was how it ended. I guess I'm a hopeless romantic because I wanted Gabby and Alex to end up together. I think their relationship should have been more developed. Overall though, "American Fuji" was entertaining and a pleasure to read.
Kathy Ayson, Honolulu
This was a great book to pick for a Hawaii book club. Many Japanese Americans growing up in Hawaii (I can't speak for other parts of the United States) are taught about admirable aspects of being Japanese. To be Japanese is to be hard working, honest and educated. We, my sisters and I were constantly reminded of this growing up. Customs that were not so admirable in American society, e.g., lack of directness and closed mindedness, were never pointed out.
Until I lived in Japan, I felt very Japanese. After living in Japan, I realized I am an American and very proud to be an American. It was very hard to communicate this to family and friends. That is why I enjoyed American Fuji so much. It honestly illustrates the beauty as well as the idiosyncrasies (from an American point of view) of Japanese society. It also explained onimotsu to me. Subconsciously, my parents handed this sense of obligation to me. I was never taught the word but I always feel a great sense of indebtedness to anyone who has done me a favor, especially when I needed to ask for help. It was a great relief to know the origins for these feelings that my husband (not of Japanese ancestry) sometimes discounted as being overly appreciative.
Thanks for pointing out the great book!
Sherri Evans, Herndon, Va.
American Fuji provides a fascinating insight into a culture radically different from the West. Japan and the Japanese are quirky, bizarre, exotic, compelling and unique, as seen through the eyes of American professor Gaby Stanton. The tightly crafted plot contains action, mystery, crime, and concludes neatly with a (pardon the pun) heartwarming ending. Although I never warmed up to any of the characters, I enjoyed this novel as an educational experience about a nation I have no desire to visit.
Janette Kragen, Roseville, CA
I really enjoyed reading American Fuji
1. In the start of the book, I found the author to be extremely harsh on the Japanese culture. Because Alex was having such difficulty getting his questions answered, the perspective seemed judgmental and not understanding of a culture different from America. As the book went on, and as Alex made relationships with people in Japan (other than Gaby) such as Mr. Aoshima, Mr. Eguchi, and Mr. Haneda, the criticism of the Japanese culture lessened. The book was written to allow the reader to feel how Alex felt as he spent more time in Japan. This concept was meaningful to me because this is how my transition felt when I moved to Hawaii several years ago.
2. There was also a transition in Gaby's character in relationship to her ulcerative colitis. At the start of the novel when we learn of her illness, she is very secretive about it. It is almost as if she is portraying the image that Alex has of Japan. As she starts to be more comfortable with those around her (Mr. Aoshima, Mr. Eguchi, and Alex) she is able to open up and ask for the help that she needs (or at least not hide that she is ill) as readily. This really stresses the importance of relationships. Once again this is very poignant to me due to the differences I saw when I moved to Hawaii. On the Mainland, people were much more upfront regarding personal issues, but not as willing to share in Hawaii until after building a relationship.
3. This novel was very interesting in showing the place that women hold in a small town in Japan. Not expected to work, expected to be married with children. I was not sure if this is accurate; I hear that Japan is changing regarding women in the work field. I was not sure if this is just in larger towns such as Tokyo or across Japan.
Patricia M. Bazin, Kaneohe
First, I wanted to thank you for bring "American Fuji" to my attention. It was a nice discovery and I almost totally enjoyed it. I look for potentially good novels where the settings may be on the Pacific Rim.
...I thought it was strange that Gaby Stanton was so knowledgeable about so much in Japan. I could not presume that she could be so knowledgeable after only five years in-country. Being fluent in Japanese was one thing, yet knowing the culture was another. I am not of the opinion that any non-Japanese knows everything about Japan. There is just so much to know and Japanese are very busy people.
I did not have any use for Alex Thorn in the first half of the novel. Potentially a gifted professional, I first found him lacking in imagination on the streets of Japan, and he was always tired. Yeah...it was just the jet-lag. Only in the last half does Alex show imagination & begin acting like, i.e. an ex-Marine. He was always so tired. I began to like him on Fuji, yet why does he need his son's memory to seize the moment while scaling a world famous peak?
I felt I was reading a good novel until I read into what was the makings of a romance novel Harlequin, if you will. It was in my mind I was reading a romance novel yes, written by a woman yet I stayed with it. It was the investment principle as you must realize. I felt too much happened in less than a week with all the characters involved. I could not anticipate so many events occurring in less than a week in real life, Things don't happen that fast in real life they don't unless the issue carries executive privilege. I also could not see so many Japanese caring about what happened to a gaijin. I have seen that Japanese are very work-oriented. I applaud them for their work efforts. I have never seen any two Japanese sharing a joke or gossip during work hours. Well, that's it. I enjoyed your novel. Until the next book....
Don Somers, Woodstock, Ga.
A wonderfully insightful and thoughtful look at the Japanese culture from an outsider's perspective. I was pleasantly surprised to read complex and thought provoking illustrations of the culture rather than simplistic one-dimensional descriptions that are often the case in culture-based novels. Interesting story and plot, enjoyed the book very much.
Diane Padilla, Fremont, California
Please tell Ms. Backer how much I thoroughly enjoyed her book, "American Fuji." I am Japanese American, yet I had no idea about the cultural differences in handling problems in Japan until my son spent a year in Japan. While reading her book, I kept telling myself, "Yes, yes, that's exactly how the Japanese in Japan deal with unpleasant situations, by pretending they don't exist!" I hope Ms. Backer with write a sequel to American Fuji.
Lloyd Kobayashi (no city given)
Speaking as one who's been there, a Japanese-American woman in Gaby's place would not, in general, receive "gaijin privilege" and would be under sharper scrutiny and criticism than Gaby probably because she is ethnically Japanese.
Gaby's love-hate relationship with Japan is understandable. Using her impressive knowledge of the provincial culture and the Japanese language, the author enables the reader to feel keenly the humiliations that Gaby must put up with as a single female, but she is also able to convey the endearing ways of the Japanese that make it hard to leave. The "No, I don't like natto" automatic response even before being asked seemed a little harsh but on the other hand, the "I-am-a-pen, you-are-a-pen, we-are-pens" recitations of the taxi driver are hilarious and true.
Gaby in the end affirms her Japan experience and will be one of those gaijin who only return home to visit. She may end up returning to "the states "when she is old and ready to say a final goodbye to Japan.
G. M. LaRiviere, Hilo
As a Japanese American who taught in Japan for two years, I was very intrigued by the Advertiser's article on Backer's "American Fuji." I opened the book a bit warily, questioning how Backer would weave her experiences as a teacher into a mystery story. The rather surreal opening chapter with its description of a fantasy funeral raised my apprehension about the novel.
However, I soon found myself chuckling at the numerous descriptions of the questions Japanese ask foreigners ("Does she eat natto?") and the peculiarities of Japanese manners (the elevator operator speaking in "a voice higher than helium") and mores (a society based on reciprocity). While much of this might be taken as Japan-bashing, they are right on the money.
When I was in Japan during the mid-80s, many Japanese, especially in the smaller towns and rural areas, seemed quite ethnocentric and in need of confirmation of their superiority and uniqueness by proving the inability of foreigners to assimilate completely into their culture. As a Japanese American I wasn't relentlessly subjected to the finger-pointing, stares and absurd questions because I blended in. I felt rather sorry for those teachers, especially the young Caucasian females, who tired of this unsolicited attention to the point of becoming resentful and cynical, counting the days until their contracts ended. At the same time, it was surprising that some of them could feel, even after as little as three months in the country, that they understood the Japanese mentality, which some could not accept because is excludes those who are different and which others embraced despite it.
Gaby Stanton is one of the latter. In five years she has become fluent nuances, "what is not said." However, we gradually begin to suspect that she may not be as reliable an interpreter of Japanese manners and mores as she thinks she is. In fact, towards the end of the novel she discovers how much she still doesn't understand and how caught she is between two cultures. In the process, however, she comes to understand more about herself. She recognizes her own insecurities and feelings of being an outsider in both of the countries she loves.
Alex Thorn quickly learns that he cannot impose his American manners and values on another culture. He fortunately realizes at the end that he must take a step back and listen to "what is not said " not only by those around him but also in his own heart.
With all they have experienced and learned together, one would hope that Gaby would be more than willing to return to the U.S. with Alex. However., although she recognizes her frailties and her need for companionship, she has also not yet come to terms with these issues. It's easier and probably less painful for her to hide in society where any eccentric behavior could be excused as a symptom of being a foreigner.
Should Gaby leave Japan? It's not easy to say. For many of the gaijin I've encountered, five years seems to be the longest that a Westerner can stay in Japan without feeling the need to escape from being regarded as an outsider. Gaby probably feels safe in her gaijin status. With a new teaching job in Osaka and the knowledge that she still has much to learn about the Japanese, she can also find a renewed sense of professional and intellectual satisfaction.
Even though I blended in, I, too, always felt like a foreigner, which was exacerbated by my lack of proficiency in the language. And when I spoke in my rather elementary Japanese, it was assumed that I was Taiwanese. When I explained that I was American, people were bewildered because my hair wasn't blond, my eyes not blue. Many couldn't conceive of Japanese born and raised in another country. However, I found myself constantly curious about and stimulated by all of the art, music, history , ceremony, and traditions that the country had to offer in my desire to discover my "roots. "It is this lure of the mysterious and wondrous that makes me identify with Gaby's wish to stay in Japan.
On a literary level, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. The tentative romance between Gaby and Alex as well as the unraveling of the mystery behind Cody's death made the last third of the book a real page-turner. On the other hand, I didn't know what to make of Eguchi. His Beatle talk showed an understanding and creative use of English greater than his apparent grammar and vocabulary limitations. Although it made for some very comical exchanges between him and Alex, it made Eguchi's complex character seem more of a clown than he deserved.
All in all, "American Fuji "is a story that anyone can appreciate, although it is even more of a seriocomedy if one has experienced life in Japan firsthand.
Christine Guro, Kaaawa
I enjoyed "American Fuji." I have never been to Japan so I was interestedin the customs portrayed, especially the attitudes of Japanese toward Americans in their country. I wonder how the Japanese would regard the novel, since it seemed rather negative in places and did not make me want to visit there. However, being realistic about a country's shortcomings in fiction is commendable
Being more or less in the mystery genre, it did not have much character development, and the romance was pretty tepid and obligatory. But that's OK too. Marubatsu was on his way to being a really wicked villain. I was disappointed he wont do jail time. I wish the author had arranged a less disgusting disease for the heroine. Also I don't believe ulcerative colitis is looked down on in this country. Look how we accept HIV and STD's without judgment.
The plot, one event leading to another, is the thing here , not literary writing. Occasionally Ms. Backer gives in to a laughable metaphor--"the white Toyota looking for a gap in the rows of other white cars like an extra tooth searching for a spot in a smile" -- But fortunately not very often.
I thought the climb up Mt. Fuji well described and a fitting for this good first novel. This was a good first choice for a Hawaii book club.
After reading "American Fuji," I would like to recommend another novel about a young American confronting the social and business worlds of modern Japan. Confusing often and frequently amusing, it is based, like Backer's book, on the author's own experience. The book is "Bicycle Days" by John Burnham Schwartz. It was published I think in l989 and has been reissued in paperback. It is beautifully written
Joan Packer, Waikiki
Just finished the book! It was great! My husband is reading it now. ... We have spent time in Japan and we could really relate to some of the things Gaby and Alex are experiencing. It is not an easy country for Americans. We stayed with families while we were there, so that helped. They let us around. My husband is tall and so was on his knees most of the time. I am sure Alex will be glad to return to America, but will probably come back and try to get Gaby to return with him. She feels so at home there, but I think that is just the fact that she has been there a few years. I was there 3 weeks and that was about all I could stand. Had a good time, but was glad to get back. Eguchi is a character basically a good guy, but involved in the underworld culture and can't get out of it. This is a book for everyone that is not Japanese.
Marie Simonich (no city given)
An interesting read on living in a foreign land. I can't help but wonder how Sara Backer came to use the ulcerative colitis as the illness that made Gaby feel like an 'outsider' in her own home and her own homeland. Did Sara use Gaby's feelings about herself, as the bridge, into living in a place that is so totally different from where one has grown up. It seems to me that Gaby was so self absorbed that it took her longer than necessary to adapt to and truly love the place she chose to live. Building a mystery into the story and weaving culture differences into the search for the truth was a very good tool. I think Sara did a very good job of pulling everything together. The story wound up nicely and even set things up for a possible sequel. I lived in Korea for two years and I did not feel so much the outsider that Gaby did. I must say it took me a while to slow down and be patient and accept that what I may feel was important, may not be as high up on the important scale to the Koreans. I enjoyed my stay there and wish everyone had the opportunity to live, for a time, in a place that is culturally different. Thank you for the great read.
B. Brenenstahl (no city given)
("American Fuji") was a page turner and I enjoyed the book very much. I have read many on similar subject matter and have traveled to Japan many times becoming very enamored with the culture. I have been to the Tamiya factory in Shizuoka and remember a little of the city, so much seemed familiar.
I wondered what the title means as it doesn't really translate but it does convey the subject somehow. What was Sara's intent?
Also she spells the Japanese words differently, using an extra "u "as in doumo, why? I felt she captured the idiosyncrasies of Japanese language translation beautifully, and will not quickly forget "Fry me to the Moon ", perfect.
Also from Massachusetts many years ago,
John Oszajca (no city given)
My name is Chris Connacher. I live in Federal Way, Washington but I am a true lover of Hawaii and have visited many times. My son and daughter-in-law and grandson live in Honolulu so perhaps someday...
I enjoyed reading American Fuji. At first, I thought that Japanese readers would be offended. Then, I could see the lesson coming through. I think that most people look at life through their own culture and life experience.
It is important to get beyond that and appreciate and enjoy the differences.
Chris Connacher, Federal Way
I'm reading the book, and love it! The morsels of Japanese culture are so interesting and real. I feel as though I am there with the characters, I'm there in the heat sweating with them, and feeling Alex Thorn's frustration with foreign customs and culture.
As I read it, one thing that strikes me, but I'm not sure why, is the repetitive mentions of Alex's blue eyes. Is it just to emphasize Gaby's attraction to him? Is it because they are something different, in that blue eyes in Japan are foreign, yet Alex finds everything around HIM so different? Or is it just another brilliant description, a way to put the reader in Gaby's place?
Overall, I'm loving the story, the characters, the setting. Mahalo to Sara Backer for writing such a great piece, and mahalo to the Honolulu Advertiser for selecting this gem!
Lori Schaffhauser, former Maui resident now in Manhattan Beach, Calif.
A great story which I read in 4 days as couldn't put it down. I could sympathize with the teacher in the story as I was one of two haoles teaching in Pearl City in the late 50s and decided if I was going to be accepted I would have to accept the ways of the people out there. When I got married in Honolulu my adopted Japanese father took me down the aisle and now his daughter, whom I taught in P.C., has adopted my own daughter who teaches in Kauai so you can understand the bonds will always remain. I wouldn't change anything in the story. Thinking it might make a great movie but then it might offend the Asian community. My daughter is now reading it so anxious to hear her comments.
Thank you for a great story.
Nancy Null, Tacoma, Wash.
The heroine, although American appears to enjoy the privacy and choices she has in Japan. I predict that she will not go back to America. If Alex is willing to follow her and remain in Japan, there is a possibility, however it seems, he is now free from his guilt and ready for a relationship anywhere, whereas Gabby has become more "Japanese" and will remain abroad. If she does not marry a Japanese, she may well adopt one or remain a mentor to her students.....and single and set in her ways.... If Gabby and Alex get together, I could see them somewhere other than his Western America.
Patti (no city given)
I was so excited when I read that you were starting a "virtual book club." I really truly enjoyed the book you started with. ... I am a kotonk, a Japanese-American born on the mainland. I am also a Nisei. So when I first starting reading the book, I was somewhat perturbed about the view I was getting about the Japanese. I have never been to Japan and have always been hesitant in going and as I was reading the book, it confirmed some of my innate unjustified fears. However, it also made me wonder if the author was exaggerating for comedic affect. As I continued to read, I really started enjoying it from the aspect of Thorn-san's "ugly American eyes" and also the appreciation of Japanese mystic through Gaby's appreciative eyes. In Columbus Ohio, it is hard to find books that are such an easy read and of diverse interest. I look forward to the next book and to read what other say about the book.
Cherith Alexander, Columbus, Ohio
A few comments about the book which I thoroughly enjoyed! I lived in Okinawa for 1 year and mainland Japan (45 mins from Tokyo) for 1 year so could relate so much to this book. I could not put the book down because it had so many twists and turns and could not wait to find out at the end how it would all come together. Much of the book was informative about why Japanese are the way they are and how they relate to Americans. I must say that I did not have as hard a time as Alex but it was very frustrating at times and I can put it into perspective a lot more clearly after reading this book.
Questions: Why not a couple pages of what happened to the relationship with Alex and Gaby at the very end. I know we could surmise but usually there is a sort of summary, such as, did she get a job in Osaka, what was her prognosis after the surgery long-term (which I felt was an incredible touch to the book about her disease....I have NEVER read anywhere about a title character with a disease such as this which was discussed in so minute a detail but did not feel overwhelmed or disgusted by it a very human touch to it), did she get the apology from the university, what was Dr. Marubatsu's reaction to being fired from his position at the University. I know that all of this was left to the reader to imagine but I like to read a post-script from the author. Thank you for the book club! My sister and I are reading the books together and then we are discussing them also....she lives in Detroit!
Sincerely, Marcia Myers, Kahala
Absolutely loved it ...didn't want it to end...cried when Alex met Aoshima on Mt. Fuji...don't think it was stereotypical but typical...I have taught English as Second lang and also am aware of Japanese culture and think this is somewhat true...gender issues are also explored..do you realize a Japanese person who speaks English can tell if the person learned it from a male or female native speaker?
Ruth Larkin, Pahoa
I just finished reading "American Fuji "and found it very entertaining and enlightening. Since I am a fairly new resident to Hawaii (1 1/2 years), it has helped me understand the Japanese culture to a better degree. What I wasn't able to ascertain from the book is what about Japan appeals to Americans in order for them to live there. I'm assuming that most of them live there just for a short while, such as a job commitment. Otherwise, the book made the country sound dirty, crowded, and unfriendly. If that is the way it is in Japan, then the author did a great job of conveying that.
However, when Gaby was faced with the possibility of moving back to America, she wanted to stay in Japan...why???? I honestly did not find much humor in the book, although it was described as being "funny." The book certainly had everything else compassion, romance, and mystery. My favorite character (outside of Gaby and Alex) was Rie, which added some life to the book. I will look forward to reading Ms. Backer's next book.
Barbara Hoy, Honolulu
I loved the book. This was a perfect first book club choice! The characters became "real people" to this reader and I found myself wanting to give Gaby and Alex advice. Since I have never been to Japan, I was curious about many things. It turned out that we all shared a journey together laced with humor, adventure and mystery.
It would be interesting to read interviews from "local Japanese" who have been to Japan and have read this book. I was also speculating about the ending....in ways not satisfied that "home" was Japan or "east" for Gaby and/or Alex. Therefore, my conclusion was that they would not end up together. Perhaps Gaby will meet a Westernized Japanese in Okazako and Alex will be open to a relationship in the west.
Patti (no city given)
This was a wonderful idea and so far I really like the book! I hope there aren't too many people here in Hawaii who think it is putting Japanese people down, as I suspect there may be some. I think it's a good read and a good piece of fiction and the subtle humor is great, too! I'll leave some comments when I finish. And Oprah's comment was sad! I read most of her selections and quite frankly, although some were upbeat, most, I felt, were too tragic to be entertaining. I like to read for pleasure! Great job in starting this endeavour.
Diane Young, Honolulu
I've just finished reading "American Fuji," by Sara Backer, and I'd like to share two positive reactions. This book has an immediacy that's created, in part, by intimate moments between characters, where they chip away at one another's secrets and inhibitions. It also has almost universal appeal because of many hilarious scenes and conversations. These scenes were placed near the beginning and "hooked" me.
I'd like to ask Ms. Backer whether she completed detailed character sketches before she started writing the plot, or whether she had the plot and resolution firmly in mind before she fleshed out characters inspired by her own life in Japan.
Mary Moon, Los Angeles, Calif. (I'll be moving back to O'ahu soon. I can't wait!)
I would like to read comments by Asians about their reaction to the book. After living in Hawaii for 30 years as a Caucasian now I understand why I feel like she did living in another culture-still a stranger and remaining one among Japanese society. The exclusivity of Japanese in America is quite apparent in Hawaii for the most part. However I would like to know what others think of her assessment.
The book read like a Nancy Drew Mystery-simple and fast reading. I enjoyed it in a superficial way.
Slahr (no last name or city given)
Having just finished reading this book, I would like to share my opinions. My interest in and knowledge of Japan is not casual; my son lives there, has for twenty years, with his Japanese wife and three half Japanese children.
I enjoyed "American Fuji" so much I didn't want it to end. It not only gives the reader delicious characters to savor, it provides friends who are hard to let go. And while it captures the idiosyncrasies of the Japanese, which make them difficult people to deal with, it also shows us graphically why it is worth it to try.
I have spent a considerable amount of time in Japan, and I know that the characters in American Fuji are authentic. I also know that except for the malevolent Marubatsu type, who undoubtedly exist though I have never met one, the Japanese really are mostly eager to get along with and please Americans.
One thing I have not found in my travels in Japan: I am an older woman with light blond hair, and though I sometimes am subtly stared at, I have never heard a solitary soul sneer "gaijin" at me. However, I have had the experience of school children running up to me and asking if they could try out their English on me.
I have always been warmly received in Japan, and have many friends and in-laws who seem as kindly disposed toward me as I am toward them. Last year I spent two weeks alone in Japan caring for my grandchildren while their parents went on vacation, and found everyone I dealt with to be helpful and courteous, despite the fact that I cannot speak a word of Japanese. Perhaps author Backer stood out more in the city of Shizuoka, which is much smaller than Tokyo, but I have also visited smaller Japanese towns and have not been singled out as a "gaijin."
Having said that, however, I need to add that I have never worked, or tried to get a job in Japan, and I suspect life in the Japanese workforce may be much more difficult for a Caucasian woman than a Japanese woman, if, indeed, she can even find a job at all. The status of women in Japan is probably at least fifty years behind that in the U.S.
I hope Sara Backer gives us more of Japan, because she does it so well. Each of her characters had some kind of very human issue endearing them to the reader, such as Gaby's ulcerative colitis and Alex' loss of his son, and Rie's bad leg, which made them more empathetic and real. In fact I found it very impressive to finally have the protagonist in a romance have such an unglamorous condition to deal with.
It was a refreshing break from reading about perfect women with perfect bodies who never worry about bathroom breaks or soiling their underwear. I really liked Gaby and Alex, and I hope they ended up together. I found out about the Advertiser's book club from a friend. I lived in Honolulu for eight years, moving back to the mainland (Reno, Nevada) at the end of last year. I think the book club is a great idea, and would like to participate regularly. I am looking forward to your "Island Life "issue that discusses "American Fuji," which I will read online.
Thanks for your attention.
Ursula Harris, Reno, Nev.
As Haleakala rises magestically outside my window, I finished reading "American Fuji." I want to climb Mount Fuji, I will climb Mount Fuji. Life is full of inspirations and destinies, and reading this book has been such an experience for me.
As a parent who donated our daughter's organs, I dislike to word "harvesting organs" used on page 369. I remember my reaction when I first heard the doctor say that word, "harvest", thinking my daughter is not a field of wheat waiting to be harvested. I've been told that is the medical term, the word they teach you in medical school. As an English teacher and donor parent, how about "obtain" or even "take out" as words to use? I have written a few letters to express my opinion, but as Gaby and Alex learn in Japan, it is hard to change cultural and traditional ways.
"It is a matter of destiny." (Pg.402) that led me to read AMERICAN FUJI. When my daughter died, I felt myself telling her... "Susie, whatever happens I want you to be happy." and she was telling me and all who loved her... ""I want you to be happy."
Life is seeking happiness... as Gaby discovered that her true happiness is living in Japan and when asked saying, "Here, I live here."(pg.388)
Life is "You'll make it...One step at a time" (pg.381).. as Alex discovers after finding out about Cody's death, and making it to the top of Mount Fuji.
Life is being "selfish" (pg.378) or is it really just "doing what you have to do" (my words) which it seems to me that the Japanese people are very good at doing. They accept things as they are and carry on with their lives. (I think we Americans want to know too much.)
My final thought is, as Cody reminded Alex, "be open to the moment" which is a thought I would like to keep remembering.
Marilyn Morikawa, Pukalani, Maui
Just finished reading "American Fuji" by Sara Backer and have to admit that I could not put this book down until finished!!! The characters were intriguing as well as the plot.
I also belong to the Purdue University Book Club and will recommend this book as one of our selections.
Mahalo for such an enjoyable experience in my first "visit" to Japan.
Mary Ann Carter, Hammond, Ind.
LOVE the book, so far. But just had to write because our Fulbright Memorial Fund Teachers' group last October had the SAME experience (pg.37) of having to introduce ourselves at every school we visited. Nervous, awkward, mispronouncing, written on our hands or on a notecard, we all had to say... (as Jeff did) "Watashi was Wisconsin no Baas desu. Dozo yoroshiku onegai shimasu."
Eagerly reading on....
Marilyn Morikawa, Pukalani, Maui