by Karen Tei Yamashita ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 1, 1990
Japanese-American Yamashita's first novel has an agenda at the beginning--concern for environmental devastation--but this is more than a piece of environmental pleading. Instead, it's as much about contemporary concerns as about the universal search for meaning and permanence. Not derivative but certainly indebted, Yamashita echoes the magic realism of writers like Garcia MÃ¡rquez as she tells the story of the fabulous Matacao plain in the midst of the Brazilian forest. The surface of the Matacao has strange properties that soon attract a host of characters--including a devout fisherman, a three-breasted French ornithologist, and a dare-devil cripple. They come in search of health, in observance of vows, and, finally, as the area develops, riches. A peasant farmer also discovers-accidentally--the healing powers of feathers, and soon feathers and the cult of feather use have swept the world. At the same time, a Japanese man, Kazumasa Ishimaru, who is always followed by a small ball with special powers, emigrates to Brazil. He befriends a local pigeon-fancier who trains his pigeons to deliver messages that are thought to have special meaning. A message that mentions Kazumasa brings the Japanese great wealth and attracts the attention of the three-armed entrepreneur J.B. Tweep, who has discovered that the strange surface of the Matacao is a remarkable plastic. But the Matacao's fortune is short-lived: the feathers not only cause the extinction of birds but are also responsible for a typhus epidemic, and the fabled Matacao plastic begins to disintegrate. Only the innocent and good like Kazumasa, who has never sought riches or miracles, experience happy endings. Along with a loving evocation of Brazil, the woes and fils of contemporary society are acutely described here; but Yamashita's affection for the quirkiness of human nature, as well as her sympathy for her characters' plights, makes this a novel, not a polemic. A fine debut.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1990
Page Count: -
Publisher: Coffee House
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1990
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