FIVE YEARS ON A ROCK by Milton Murayama


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 Murayama (All I Asking for Is My Body, not reviewed) takes on the persona of a Japanese ``picture bride'' sent to Hawaii to marry a stranger in this informative, if dispassionate novel. In 1914, Sawa is given to the eldest son of Hawaii's Oyama family in return for an engagement gift of $350, despite the fact that another young man had always assumed they would wed. She promises to return in five years, even though her mother chides her, ``Forget the samurai talk...Persevere like a peasant.'' Sawa's first encounter with her new husband is less than palatable, and she learns that their elaborate wedding party is far beyond the means of her in-laws. They make and sell tofu, and soon Sawa is constantly busy, getting up in the middle of the night to help create the soy product, peddling it from a cart, and slopping the family's 50 pigs with the leftover hulls and whey. Her life is difficult, but she keeps a stiff upper lip, determined to adapt and succeed. This admirable trait makes her an emotionally cool narrator: When her husband slaps her for making impudent remarks, she cries, but then picks herself up, noting, ``I have to collect swill, feed the pigs.'' She bears several children, adding to her burden of work. The details of Sawa's life are intriguing, but little stands out. When she and her husband form a tanomoshi to raise $100, the explanation of how their mutual financing group functions offers a glimpse of a communal tradition, but the friends and relatives involved do not come alive. Linguistically speaking, puns on Japanese and Hawaiian phrases become clumsy when they have to be explained. Cultural insight into the Hawaiian school of hard knocks, but without enough punch.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-8248-1647-1
Page count: 155pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1994