BALLOON TOP by Nobuko Albery


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In deceptively decorous narration, bright with immaculate portraits and wit, liana, a Japanese girl of affluent family, drifts and struggles through storms of conscience from her WW II childhood through her 1960s college years--while Japan's raw, uncertain postwar recovery accelerates the urgency of youth. Secure as a little child in her adoration of her lovely mother (""Magic mother""), liana soon learns to distrust the uneasy accommodations of the beloved adults around her--the end of magic. So, at a Catholic girls' school (a sly acculturation) she transfers adoration to classmate Misa, a ""saintly"" idealist and activist, and starts her ""Excelsior diary,"" marking down visions of ""higher and higher."" But reassuring Misa disappears in tragedy and mystery. Kana seems to be sliding into a ""stale old routine world of. . . arranged marriages, ubiquitous doilies, Steinways, dainty breakfasts""--and what of Excelsior? Then, at her Tokyo university, a splinter group of radical students promises bliss and usefulness and, above all, togetherness, while ""the fatty tissue of affluence was thickening daily under every young Japanese skin, smothering both moral and political integrity."" Kana--and Japan--are offered redemption. She joyously commits herself to untidy, knuckle-reddening labor; to having her ""empty bourgeois balloon of a head"" stuffed with right thinking; to the looming violence of demonstrations; to the group's firebrands, clowns, gossips, and the group's leader, Ken-san. But the sacrifice of identity and honor to power is no answer: the group is battered, beaten, and dispersed, leaving Kana and Ken ""a couple of comics. . . . Like dear old Japan, we'll accumulate, fatten, slacken, and decompose."" A shriving exercise, yet along the way, much warmth and youthful spirits--a shrewdly accessible but authentic marriage of Eastern experience with Western (British) stylishness.

Pub Date: June 30th, 1978
Publisher: Pantheon