TALKING TO HIGH MONKS IN THE SNOW: An Asian-American Odyssey by Lydia Minatoya

TALKING TO HIGH MONKS IN THE SNOW: An Asian-American Odyssey

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A finely worded memoir of coming to terms with a Japanese heritage, by a Japanese-American who's a community-college counselor in Seattle. ""Feudal Japan floats around my mother,"" Minatoya writes. ""It followed her into our American home and governed my girlhood life....In that feudal code, all females were silent and yielding."" But Minatoya is an American brought up on ""iconoclastic choice and irrepressible hope,"" uncomfortable with ""being in-between."" Here, her spiritual journey begins with memories of growing up in Albany in the 1950's and of the tragic figure of a grandmother she knew only from one photograph. Her mother's mother had been divorced, ""banished"" from her samurai-descended family, and separated permanently from her children--the price of having a love affair. From Boston, where the author had a ""tenure track contract"" at an unnamed university, Minatoya takes us on her travels ""in the disguise of a soul unfettered by convention"" to Japan and China (she taught in both countries), and finally to Nepal. What will leave an impression with readers are the fragmentary accounts of her family's experiences. Her immigrant father in Washington State, for instance, made his way from being a ""child servant"" who ""cooked and cleaned and tended the cool long lawn that sloped away from the big house like a dowager's ample evening skirt"" to being a research scientist. And unforgettable is the revelation that Minatoya's grandmother tried to poison her children when she was condemned to separation (""murder-suicide was considered an honorable act""). One can't help compare this to In the Realm of a Dying Emperor (p. 981), in which Norma Field uses her Japanese-American bicultural perspective to penetrate some of the struggles of contemporary Japan. Minatoya, though eloquent and sometimes moving, only flags along on the steep path of introspection.

Pub Date: Feb. 12th, 1992
ISBN: 0060923725
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: HarperCollins