TROPIC OF ORANGE by Karen Tei Yamashita

TROPIC OF ORANGE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 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.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 1-56889-064-0
Page count: 275pp
Publisher: Coffee House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1997




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