Books by Kyoko Mori

Released: Sept. 20, 2000

"An unlikable lead character undercuts a story at times rich with fine observations on familial and marital relationships."
Memoirist Mori (Polite Lies, 1998, etc.) offers her first adult novel, a meditative though not very sympathetic look at one woman's journey in reconciling her lonely childhood with the bleak present she has created for herself. Read full book review >
POLITE LIES by Kyoko Mori
Released: Jan. 1, 1998

In spare essays dealing with topics such as ``Secrets,'' ``A Woman's Place,'' ``Tears,'' and ``Home,'' novelist and memoirist Mori (Shizuko's Daughter, 1993; The Dream of Water, 1995) examines the ways truth is circumvented in America and in her native Japan. Now making her home in Wisconsin, the author sees herself as more American than Japanese, and from her newfound perspective she exposes such ``polite lies,'' or socially condoned and expected dissimulations, as the Japanese code of silence regarding matters of health (her father was not informed that he had malignant cancer), finance (the reticence of her father's bank cost Mori her inheritance), and family (the need for family secrecy kept her from seeking a lawyer). Of course, she argues, there are polite lies—religious rituals, for example, or the platitudes we utter in the face of adversity—that we need, that offer us comfort and may actually be preferable to harsh truths. Mori—who was 12 when she lost her mother to suicide—sees that death as a rejection of the polite lie of marital harmony and stability. For herself, unable to decide on a way of life that didn't involve compromise, the author chose divorce: ``If marriage meant sacrifice, mutual or one-sided, I wanted to be alone.'' This terse explanation, however, seems an oddly incomplete accounting for the end of her marriage. While she bravely sees through what she calls the polite fictions of her Japanese family and friends, Mori is rarely condemnatory. Her quiet prose seems to reflect the discipline of her personal belief system; it's as if the stoicism she was raised to practice in her behavior and thoughts is embedded even in her writing style. She is frank—but never deeply angry. Though there is a sameness to some of these essays, Mori's observations about lies and their consequences build to powerful effect. Read full book review >
ONE BIRD by Kyoko Mori
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

Megumi, 15, in the course of the crisis precipitated by her parents' divorce, tells readers of her relationships with her mother, father, and friends; examines role models; falls in love; and heals many birds. Every character is three-dimensional and memorable, people that readers will recognize from their own lives, although the Japanese setting leaves an unmistakable imprint: Custom demands that Megumi live with her father, who forbids her to visit her mother until she comes of age; she is a Christian who has ceased to believe in God. The unhurried coolness of the text is luminously punctuated by Mori (Shizuko's Daughter, 1993) with the names of flowers, descriptions of birds, and poetic chapter titles. Although the themes flow out of one another by free association in a way that is typical of a first-person narration, each paragraph obeys a rigorous inner logic so that every word is enunciated and no detail is slurred. The trajectory of the plot is straightforward, starting at an emotional low point and building without big twists or turns; as a result, readers become especially sensitive to the small occurrences, each one telling. The text gains an intensity from the discipline with which every detail of this accomplished work is orchestrated, from the first page to the last. (Fiction. 13+) Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 12, 1995

In a poetic and emotionally charged account of a journey back to her native Japan, Mori creates beautiful scenes even as she uncovers painful truths about her family and her past. Not knowing what else to do for a sabbatical, novelist Mori (Creative Writing/St. Norbert's College; Shizuko's Daughter, 1993) applied for a grant to travel to Japan, which she had left 13 years earlier, when she was a junior in college. This chronicle covers her departure from her adopted America; her rediscovery of her hometown of Kobe; her reacquaintance with the land and people she had so eagerly fled; and her remembrances of a childhood that included her mother's suicide when Mori was 12 and her father's subsequent beatings and cruelties (he forbade Mori to see her mother's relatives and, whenever his new wife threatened to leave because of Mori, would menace his daughter with a meat knife). Her book, which begins like entries in a conscientious traveler's journal, soon becomes a memoir wrought with suspense and wisdom. Will she contact her father? Will she understand her parents' early love for each other and their subsequent loss? In her initial encounters, Mori has difficulty communicating: Not only is her Japanese rusty, but she also respects the customs of Japanese restraint. So she says little and later dwells on what she should have said. But after visiting her mother's grave and relatives, she arrives at an emotional watershed. The book becomes richly rewarding as Mori opts for the most complicated, interesting, and difficult answers. She has an acute eye for metaphors. Some are delicate—like a stone slab at the bottom of a temple gate over which people step because it is a bad omen to touch it. Others, like the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima (whose victims include her relatives), are explosive. This beautifully written voyage through a ``legacy of loss'' is a trip well worth taking. Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1993

Mori (Creative Writing/Saint Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin) returns to her native Japan for a lyrical first novel with the intensity of remembered grief. Yuki's gentle mother commits suicide after assuring the anxious 12-year-old that she is ``all right.'' Like her mother Shizuko, to whom she was exceptionally close, Yuki is talented and resilient; but she too is thwarted by a restrictive society and a miserable family situation. For Shizuko, there was no hope—though she loved her daughter, her husband was cold, dictatorial, and usually absent; and though (as Yuki will learn) she was once attracted to a more congenial man, she would have lost Yuki in a divorce. Life becomes nearly as bleak for Yuki: her father marries his mistress, who is obsessively antagonistic to Yuki, and he prevents Yuki from communicating with her mother's loving relatives. Even Yuki's talents are stumbling blocks to friendship: highly intelligent, creative, assertive, she doesn't fit into the traditional Japan of the 70's. Only at 18 does she break free by rejecting the fine local university to go to a distant art school. Still compulsively gauche, in the end she mellows toward her grandparents and makes a strong friendship with the promise of blossoming into love. A beautifully written book about a bitterly painful coming of age, intensified by exquisite sensory motifs—flavors and aromas, light and color, the weight and ornamentation of clothing. Yuki's unsympathetically portrayed father may not be fully realized; but like Suzanne Staples's Shabanu (1989), Yuki is unforgettable. A splendid debut. (Fiction. 12+) Read full book review >