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by Alan Brown

Pub Date: Feb. 11th, 1996
ISBN: 0-671-52671-5
Publisher: Pocket

Brilliantly observed first novel about the fascination that brings Americans and Japanese together—and the xenophobia that drives them apart. Toshi, from the majestic northern island of Hokkaido, was nine when his soon-to-be-separated mother took him to see Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. From then on, he was entranced by foreigners—so open and free compared to his own repressed, unhappy family and nation. Brown exuberantly describes Toshi's Candidelike progress in hyperactive, modern-day Tokyo—where pet dogs can be rented (an hour a day per week), the Minister of Agriculture commits ritual suicide on TV, and blimps circle overhead, advertising for a bride for the Crown Prince. When he reaches 23, Toshi has become a boy- toy, seduced by American girls and adored by his best friend, gay advertising executive Paul; and his job as staff artist for a popular comic book, Chocolate Girl, allows him to keep life at a surreal distance. His passivity, however, is increasingly challenged after an affair with his kinky English teacher, Jane, turns scary and violent, his father drops dead coming to visit him, and an earthquake devastates Hokkaido. Against a backdrop of Japan turning furiously anti-American under the specter of US imports, these shocks refocus Toshi on the meaning of his parents' separation. As his father's noodle shop is bulldozed, Toshi's mother reveals that she's actually Korean, kidnapped during the war and gang-raped for weeks by Japanese soldiers and factory workers. Toshi's father was a soldier who came to rape her, then stayed to rescue and marry her, even though she could not love him. After so much surreal comedy, this reversal sweeps through the novel like a tsunami, illuminating the war guilt that lies under Japan's frantic embrace of smiley-face consumerism. In a knowingly sentimental close, Toshi finds love with the right American. And Brown, having handled tragedy, satire, and fine descriptions of rural Japan, doesn't flinch from his final hurdle- -depicting happiness. An impressive debut. (Author tour)