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DREAM MESSENGER by Masahiko Shimada

DREAM MESSENGER

by Masahiko Shimada

Pub Date: Nov. 16th, 1992
ISBN: 4-77001-535-6
Publisher: Kodansha

 Published in 1989 in Japan, this novel is the first US publication for Shimada; set in New York and Tokyo, it's a study of cultural displacement in the guise of a mother's quest for her long-lost son. Mrs. Amino is a Japanese-American whose little son Masao (Matthew) was kidnapped by his father when they lived in the US. Now, 25 years later in Japan, the lonely, super-rich Mrs. Amino wants Matthew back. She assigns her raffish houseboy Kubi to scour Tokyo; ex-beauty queen Maiko will check out New York, where she finds Matthew's elderly foster-father Katagiri, a Japan-hater whose loyalty belongs to the Orphan Republic, a grandiose term for the child-rental business founded by his Irish-American wife and himself. They rented out orphans to parents who had lost their kids; Matthew was their only Japanese rental child. Shimada has built his novel around this idea, but what is it exactly? The biggest child-labor racket since Fagin's pickpockets hit the streets of London, or a golden opportunity for deprived kids to outperform child actors? His own view is as cloudy as his long, rambling exposition of the project is awkward. Similarly cloudy is his treatment of Matthew, now working in Tokyo as a ``professional friend,'' selling everything from sex to a sympathetic ear, and dependent for companionship on his guardian spirit, Mikainaito, who can enter other people's dreams. It's hard to say whether Matthew has been crippled by his rental-child experience, or has just the right kind of hipness for life in New York and its mirror-image Tokyo (``the capital city of illusion and amnesia''). At the end, Shimada contrives a mother-son reunion that entails the challenge, for Matthew, of an unlimited run. What interests Shimada is the porousness of modern life, but he has not yet found the right metaphor or story-idea to express it.