WHITE ELEPHANT by Mako Idemitsu

WHITE ELEPHANT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Idemitsu has written an autobiographical first novel about a young Japanese woman who comes to America to study and stays to marry, raise a child, and find her identity as a woman caught between two cultures.

The four daughters of extremely wealthy Japanese businessman Morimasa Morimoto grow up believing it is “their duty to devote themselves to him” although he and his wife, Sadako, pay them little attention. The eldest, smartest daughter, Hiroko, moves to New York promising to become a successful artist. The second and third daughters, sweet, pretty Eiko and the usually hostile Fusako, marry to please their father. While Idemitsu moves frequently into flashbacks to flesh out the stories of the individual Morimoto women and show the ways in which each is emotionally damaged, the novel primarily focuses on the evolution of introverted youngest daughter Sakiko. While attending college at UCLA in 1964, she meets Paul, an artist and teacher. When she becomes pregnant, she reluctantly has the baby to keep Paul in her life although she fears her family’s reaction. She marries Paul in a passive trance before the baby’s birth. Her sisters in Japan voice their disapproval, her mother doesn’t respond at all, but her father sends cash. Having a baby, Sakiko feels needed for the first time. She tries to navigate the seemingly hostile white American world while remembering various painful moments from her Japanese childhood, including her mother’s neglect, Fusako’s cruelty, and the instance of physical assault every coming-of-age story seems to require lately. Gradually she grows more independent (although family money means she's never at financial risk). Meanwhile, Paul’s character remains amorphous. He pursues an affair with Sakiko’s sister Hiroko, perhaps the novel’s most fragile character, whose desire to please her father overwhelms whatever artistic talent she may have. Yet he genuinely seems to care for Sakiko and wants her to grow stronger, even admonishing her to learn to say “no.” Neither Sakiko nor the reader can tell if he is a womanizer with sensitive pretensions or someone more complex.

Although it ends on a half-heartedly optimistic note, the novel leaves a bitter aftertaste of unresolved anger.

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 2016
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Chin Music Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2016




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