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by Kenny Fries

Pub Date: Sept. 19th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-299-31420-0
Publisher: Univ. of Wisconsin

The memoir of a writer who traveled to Japan and found a new perspective on himself.

Poet and memoirist Fries (Creative Writing/Goddard Coll.; The History of My Shoes and the Evolution of Darwin's Theory, 2007, etc.) was on the verge of a traumatic romantic split when he first traveled to Japan to research a book about the country’s approach to disability. His partner had urged him to pursue the grant, but after their separation, he was alone in a foreign country, where his lifelong disability that hinders his mobility would add to the challenge. He even has trouble removing his shoes, which Japanese decorum demands. Fries documents how he came to terms with the country—as a foreigner, as a disabled person, and as a gay man. Less than halfway through the narrative, he has made friends, found romantic interests, and made himself at home. “Why am I so comfortable here?” he asks. “Why does Tokyo seem, in so many ways, after such a short time, home?” Throughout the book, the author asks himself frequent questions; when his grant expired and he had to return to the U.S., he had a new, more disturbing set of them. He had fallen ill, received a diagnosis that suggested HIV, and was beginning to see his life in a whole new light. “I am filled with questions,” he writes. “What survives? Who survives? How long will I survive?” Fries eventually returned to Japan on a new grant, found a healer and a lover, and continued his research, but he also discovered that his focus had shifted. “The book about disability in Japan is the book I came to write,” he writes. “Now, with all that has changed, it seems that there is another, more urgent book to write, a book where I am more subject than researcher. Is there a connection between the two?”

This slim, readable memoir, while occasionally overly inward-facing, answers that question as one project morphs into another.