FACE OF A STRANGER by Yoji Yamaguchi


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A farcical first novel -- adept, occasionaly lively -- sends up pride and intolerance in a California community of Japanese immigrants. It's sometime in the early part of the century, and handsome ne'er-do-well Takashi Arai has noticed something strange: Women sometimes stop and gape at him in amazement and pain, as if they're seeing a ghost. He blames a photograph that an old man paid him to have taken some years back. With the importance of marriages brokered via photograph, Takashi correctly surmises that his picture has been duplicated and used to lure flocks of women across the Pacific with the prospect of a good-looking husband. Some have arrived to ugly mates; others were forced into prostitution. One evening, Takashi himself is brought, dead-drunk, into the hut of a wily whore and moneylender named Kikue, who recognizes him as the man she'd been promised by a marriage-broker in Japan. A few days later, she tracks down Takashi at a farm belonging to the sweet, seemingly stupid Kogoro, one of the area's most successful farmers. Kikue shows Takashi the photo of a beautiful woman and promises, for a fee, to produce her to be his bride. Takashi takes the bait. Kikue, inspired by her act of turning the tables, sells her promissory notes to the gangster she works for in exchange for her freedom -- and an untidy showdown occurs as the gangster tries to collect on her debts. Lunkish Kogoro ends up with the beautiful bride, and general chaos discombobulates the already factionalized town. The novel's comic strength comes not from its madcap plotting, but from its razor-edged portraits of those contending for wealth and power: the aggressively intolerant Christians, the bumbling gangsters, and the ingenious and mischievous whores. Assured character sketches, then, are given body and resonance by the dull ache of constantly thwarted ambition that permeates and darkens this antic world.

Pub Date: June 21st, 1995
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: HarperCollins