AMERICAN FUJI by Sara Backer


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A lively debut about the innocence of Americans abroad in modern Japan.

Gaby Stanton, a 36-year-old expatriate in her fifth year of teaching English at a small Japanese university, is peremptorily fired. No explanation furnished. No appeal possible. Well, “This is Japan, expect the unexpected,” she's been told often enough to have become a believer. Unexpectedly, then, she lands a job at a company called Gone With the Wind, owned and operated by one Mr. Eguchi, cool, shrewd, and, it turns out, yakuza-connected (read: mafia). She's to sell fantasy funerals, suddenly a hot status symbol among affluent Japanese. For a fix on the degree of affluence, Eguchi counsels the ever-reliable toilet test whenever Gaby makes a house call: “Toilets tell truth about people,” he insists. Enter dour, straitlaced Alex Thorn, psychologist, and author of Why Love Fails, a self-help book that developed out of his own bitter experience. Alex is in Japan to investigate the presumably accidental death of his college-aged son, a death surrounded by mysterious circumstances. Whatever these are, Gone With the Wind appears to be at the heart of the case, especially since Alex has a bill from the company “for services rendered” that also seem shrouded in mystery. Alex wants answers. Pretty soon, Gaby finds herself wanting to help. And, to her surprise—skeptical as she is about the opposite sex—finds herself attracted to him. In the days that follow, Gaby and Alex learn enough about the so-called accident to be certain it involves a money-making scam of considerable significance. They also learn a good deal about each other. As for dour Alex, he lightens up, discovering more than he ever thought possible about coming to terms with the unexpected.

While cultures clash, love flourishes: a funny, warmhearted first novel just a bit overlength.

Pub Date: March 19th, 2001
ISBN: 0-399-14691-1
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2001