THE PHOENIX TREE by Satoko Kizaki


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A collection of four short stories--long on explanation and short on subtlety, with themes exhaustively explored--mark Japanese writer Kizaki's American debut. Kizaki's theme is a search for a sense of self, of identity, whether it be in a foreign land or within a family. In three of the stories, the leading characters are young women, but together with the middle-aged businessman Ueda, of ""Mei Hua Lu,"" they seem more variations on a single person than distinctive individuals. All four are achingly sensitive to their surroundings, unhappy with the present, and haunted by memories of the past. The young woman of the title story, when asked to take care of the dying aunt who had raised her, is reminded again of her love for her aunt's son, and the uncertainty of her place in her aunt's affections. But when her brother tells her how her aunt had accidentally been responsible for the terrible burn that disfigures the woman's face, this cathartic moment, extensively explored, leads to acceptance. Another young woman, living temporarily in California with her scientist husband, and haunted by her parents' death in war-tom Manchuria, finds some sort of peace when she gives birth to her own child and decides she must live for it. The other two stories--""Barefoot"" and ""Mei Hua Lu""--are about Japanese who have felt more loved and more at home abroad than in their native Japan, where their families are either insensitive or cruel. There is nothing wrong with Kizaki's themes--and the examples are fresh--but the insights and the emotions are too worked over, too obvious, and too self-conscious. Somewhat disappointing.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Kodansha--dist. by Farrar, Straus & Giroux