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T. Coraghessan Boyle: East Is East
Amazingly enough Michiko liked this book but most other critics thought it was one of Boyle’s lesser works. For myself, I thought that it wasn’t too bad a novel though, as always with Boyle, a bit tongue-in-cheek and sometimes too clever for its own good. Nevertheless, as always, you get a good and funny read and, beneath it all, there is a sincere message, in this case about racism which, Shock! Horror!, still exists in the United States.
Hiro Tanaka is the son of a Japanese mother and an American hippie father. His mother was a barmaid in Kyoto, who killed herself for shame after his father, the hippie, deserted her, leaving her with a mixed Japanese-American son, namely Hiro. As a person of mixed race, poor Hiro has a hard time in Japan even though he is a lover of Mishima. However, he is also a lover of the United States, at least the United States he has seen in films and heard about in rock songs. So he signs up to work as a cook on a freighter and, when the freighter is off the shore of Georgia, he jumps overboard and swims to land. Land is Tupelo Island, home to Thanatopsis, a writers colony, which, of course, gives Boyle ample opportunity to satirise contemporary USA writers. Hiro first meets Ruth Dershowitz, a writer of minimal talent but the lover of the son of the owner of the colony. However, she takes to Hiro, protecting him from the various forces after him, including the Immigration Service and the local rednecks. She also sees him as a possible subject for her writings. Of course, the other inhabitants react to him in various ways, one mistaking him for a ghost, another for Seiji Ozawa. Boyle has a lot of fun, mocking the writers (and their rivalries), the INS agents and their incompetence and the racial prejudices of all races. In short, Hiro does not find his idealised America and ends as a Japanese.
First published 1990 by Viking