Books by Karen Tei Yamashita

LETTERS TO MEMORY by Karen Tei Yamashita
Released: Sept. 12, 2017

"Shaped and voiced with literary flair, this is clearly a book Yamashita felt compelled to write, and her sense of purpose makes this historical excavation feel deeply personal."
A multilayered evocation of Japanese internment camps as experienced by the author's extended family. Read full book review >
I HOTEL by Karen Tei Yamashita
Released: June 1, 2010

"With delightful plays of voice and structure, this is literary fiction at an adventurous, experimental high point."
An overstuffed, multiform swirl of a novel about a decade in the life of San Francisco's Chinatown and, by extension, the Asian experience in America. Read full book review >
TROPIC OF ORANGE by Karen Tei Yamashita
Released: Sept. 1, 1997

Yamashita (Brazil-Maru, 1992; In the Arc of the Rain Forest, 1990) now turns her political concerns into an ambitious but cluttered, apocalyptic riff on immigration, the homeless, and NAFTA as the Tropic of Cancer moves north. Like the TV news program that Japanese-American Emi, a television executive, is responsible for, the novel cuts from scene to scene, character to character. And, again like the news, the effect, despite the underlying political preoccupations, is more often an incoherent collage than a cohesive commentary or convincing, perceptive interpretation of what ails society. Down in Mexico, where Rafaela is supervising construction of Chicano journalist Gabriel's house, she discovers a particularly nasty thug dealing in human body parts and flees north. Simultaneously, oranges filled with poison arrive from Mexico, killing innocent buyers and, in one instance, causing an accident that closes L.A.'s Harbor Freeway. The shut-down leads to a riot, the riot leads to a brutal shoot-out, and the shoot-out leads to the National Guard being brought in to restore order. But order, of course, can't really be recovered. As Emi, Gabriel's lover, hastens to cover the action—the cars abandoned by their owners on the freeway are mysteriously taken over by the homeless, who plant gardens under the hoods—Gabriel picks up the trail of the shadowy figure selling freshly harvested body parts to ill, wealthy Angelenos. Meanwhile, Bobby, Rafaela's Chinese husband, helps an illegal immigrant; Buzzman, a good samaritan in the 'hood, becomes a TV star; Archangel, a mysterious performance artist, heads to L.A. to wrestle with SUPERNAFTA in the ultimate wrestling contest; and, above the almost motionless freeways, an old Japanese man conducts an imaginary orchestra. Yamashita clearly means to offer some kind of wake-up call, but it gets lost in the profusion of plotlines and characters. Los Angeles's own apocalypse, with a great cast but poor direction and a story too rigorously intent on sending a message. Read full book review >
BRAZIL-MARU by Karen Tei Yamashita
Released: Sept. 1, 1992

From Japanese-American writer Yamashita: a story of Japanese emigration set, like her first novel (Through the Arc of the Rain Forest, 1990), in Brazil. A range of characters, male and female, tell about a particular group of Japanese who emigrated to Brazil in the first decades of this century. Christian, well-educated, and reasonably affluent, they sought to establish communities where Christian and Japanese values could flourish. The group prospered, though not without cost, and it is this cost that's a major theme here. A secondary theme, suggested by the quotes from the philosopher Rousseau that precede each section, is the nature of education in a new world where emigrants' children often have only ``natural and purely physical knowledge.'' Young Emile begins with his recollections of his 1925 arrival in Brazil as a small child; the uncomfortable journey to the settlement where families already there helped them clear land; and the hard work required to become self-sufficient. But even the most idealistic communities have problems, and, successively, Emile, Haru, Kantaro, and Genji, over the years, record the events and personalities that threatened the group: Kantaro, the visionary and dilettante, whose enterprises from baseball to chicken-farming had unforeseen consequences; the bitter divisions caused by WW I that led to the murder of an original founder; the effects of the enduring passion of Yergo for Haru; and the increased assimilation with neighboring Brazilians. Paradoxically, assimilated Guillerme notes in an epilogue that thousands of unemployed Japanese-Brazilians are currently working in Japan as menial labor. Though often seeming more a work of reportage than a novel, Yamashita's characters are vital, full-bodied creations offering sufficient balance, as well as answers to the questions raised. Informative and timely. Read full book review >