POLITE LIES by Kyoko Mori


On Being a Woman Caught Between Cultures
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 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.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8050-4079-X
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1997


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