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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 17 November 1999
I found this book unputdownable. This story follows Jane Takagi-Little's Year of Meat as she puts together a weekly television show for Japanese audiences promoting the so called 'wholesomeness' and healthiness of American meat, in particular beef. At the same time we follow a Japanese housewife's sad life in Tokyo and how she is changed by this show which she is told to watch by her brutal, dreadful husband. It sounds like an unlikely story to be riveted by, but I promise, it really is.
A friend of mine recommended this book to me as I have been, for the last 18 months or so, eating only organic food. I had been told about the hormones and antibiotics present in non-organic meat and dairy products, but didn't realise I knew so little about it until I read My Year of Meat. Having been a dedicated carnivore for most of my 32 years, I am now seriously considering turning totally vegetarian.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
I had never heard of the Japanese/American/Canadian novelist Ruth Ozeki before delightedly coming across her Booker shortlisted novel A Tale for the Time Being. I am now working through her hardly even handful of earlier titles

Like Time Being, My Year Of Meats, also published at one time as My Year Of Meat, is told in two voices, a hybrid American Japanese one, living in America, and a Japanese one, in Japan.

The Japanese voice is that of Akiko, a woman suffering hugely in a culture which is part way its own history, but also being bent and bending itself, into American obsession. The second voice is Jane, a version of Ozeki herself, a Westernised independent woman of Japanese American birth, born in the USA, who nevertheless is `hybrid' and therefore, whilst seeing herself as American, is viewed partly as outsider from both cultures, and indeed views both cultures from the outside.

Jane Tagaki-Little is a documentary film maker. The Beef Industry, keen to spread its markets more globally, is producing a series of real-life documentaries which are designed to sell more meat, and persuade Japanese people to `cook more American' exchanging a largely fish diet for one containing huge slabs of cow. The production company has to sell the product by selling the (artificial, air-brushed) corn-fed blonde view of the American family. The highlight of each programme in My American Wife involves cooking the slab of cow in some way, for example - in a tin of mushroom soup, rolled in dried onion soup after marinating in Coca-Cola (not Pepsi-Cola)

The programmes are car-crash rubberneckingly awful, and hysterically funny - Oprah confessional style, all at once. So is poor Akiko, disturbingly frail and flawed, married to an awful husband (an executive for the company, Beef-Ex, trying to push and expand its markets) Akiko's vision both acts as a commentary on her own society, and, as she is forced to give her opinion of the programmes, of the unreal-American-dream culture - `not authentic, not likeable'

Meanwhile Jane, who is warm about America, is warm about a very different sort of America, recognising the multicultural nature of the country, which, from the start, was patchwork and ethnically rich. The families she wants to celebrate are not the airbrushed ones, but those of eccentricity, individuality, complex ethnicity and authenticity.

And then she begins to run into the politics of the food industry.

The fact that my favourite writer on the politics, and machinations of that unholy combination of the food, agribusiness and pharmaceuticals industry, Michael Pollan, `wowed' Ozeki's book will give an idea of its flavour. Ozeki, like Barbara Kingsolver, is a writer with environmental concerns, and there is a strong element of exposure of cynical derring-do, with profit being put before people, with the evidence of a corrupt industry or industries tampering with food, using banned drugs, long after they have been banned in one place, in another. As an example DES (diethylstilboestrol), banned in the chicken industry, neatly sideswept for another couple of decades into the beef industry, neatly sideswept improperly tested, as a maintainer of pregnancy world-wide to help women avoid miscarriage, until the inevitable side effects began to surface. Then re-marketed as a morning after pill to inhibit implantation of a fertilised ovum.

The politicisation of Jane in this area, and therefore her role as an educator on the science of all this, is not in any way difficult or gratuitous. Ozeki's magnificent ability to give hard facts light touch sees the reader through without feeling overwhelmed. First and foremost Ozeki is after all a novelist. It is just she is a novelist ABOUT, a social, journalistic novelist if you like. And the social, political rationale for the novel has a fine pedigree - which we can trace from Victorian writers like Dickens and Trollope, exposing the seamy side of their society, to Upton Sinclair and well beyond. Upton Sinclair was a radical so called issue `muckraking journalist' novelist, and Pulitzer prizewinner. His book about the lives of immigrant in the meatpacking industry, The Jungle, published in 1906 was exposing even THEN the seamy corruption of the food industry and capitalism as bedfellows.

Where Ozeki differs from these authors, is her gender, and her hybrid, therefore outsider viewpoint from any culture. If you are not interested in a book about the food and pharmaceuticals industry - read this as a fascinating, painful and funny book about feeling like an outsider, about changing cultures, cultures in collision, delivered playfully and with subtlety. Just be prepared, every now and again, for a hammer blow to set you reeling.

Ozeki IS a polemic writer, but she is not only a polemicist.

Brilliant. I will definitely now be buying Ozeki the second!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 18 March 1999
This is primarily the story of Jane Takagi-Little; half-American, half-Japanese; documentary-maker and modern woman. Jane becomes the director of a Japanese TV series called 'My American Wife', made for the Japanese market and sponsored by meat company BEEF-EX. It features meat dishes made by many and varied women, all of whom leave their mark on Jane in different ways. Despite objections from the executive in charge in Tokyo, Joichi Ueno (nickname John - geddit?!), Jane widens the scope of the programme, and starts to uncover a sinister trail of information about meat production in the USA. Joichi, for his part, a bully and wife-beater, tries to stop Jane revealing more of her discoveries, and his wife Akiko, desperate to have a baby, bears the brunt of his frustration. Add to this mix a sexy musician lover, a crazy camera crew and some lovely minor characters, and the end result is a tasty meal, one to get your teeth into - laugh, cry and flinch at some of the reality that is revealed. The way Jane and the others search for personal freedom and honesty in their lives and the meat industry is fascinating. A fabulous book - I recommend it to everyone.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 16 July 2001
This book is more about culture and femininity than it is about meat, although the meat, like the sex, is a tantalizing treat that keeps reappearing; at times satisfying, at other times revolting. As an American who lives in Japan, I was particularly impressed with Ozeki's ability to show America through the eyes of her Japanese characters to whom concepts like infidelity and lesbianism have very different meanings than they do to Westerners. Ozeki isn't afraid to go against trendy American politically-correct sensibilities. This is both brave and necessary. When dealing with cross-cultural communication, cultural faux pas and misinterpretations are inevitable, and not to include them would be a cheat. Ozeki demonstrates her insight into the differences between Japanese and American culture, and through that, and through the relationship troubles of her two protagonists, a Japanese woman and an American woman, we can also find out what makes us all the same. I highly recommend this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 27 October 1998
This book left me with two overwheliming emotions. One, a deep admiration for Ruth L Ozeki who comes across from these pages as sensitive, intelligent and comitted to her ideal (and from the liner photo appears to be something of a fox too), and secondly, a sneaking suspicion that I didn't want to be a carnivore any more.
Ruth made me reconsider a lifetime's habit that I knew to be questionable from a health point of view by resolutely refusing to preach to me about the moral aspects of eating meat. She appealed to my good, old-fashioned self interest.
But to concentrate on this aspect of the book is to ignore it for what it is... a heartwarming story that juxtaposes the differences between american and Japanese cultures in an easy to comprehend, easy to read, and easy to enjoy way. It has a sprinkling of romance, a little rebellion, and a lot of information about meat production and factory farming techniques.
It changed my life... and while I doubt that I'll ever become a vegitarian, I haven't eaten beef since I read it, nor pork. Or lamb...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 24 July 2013
As with other books by Ruth Ozeki, this story covers a number of themes including the factory farming of animals and the health problems for those who consume meat reared in this way. It also contrasts food culture in Japan and in the USA. The characters are well 'fleshed' out and the reader can empathise with them. I couldn't put the book down until I'd finished it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Ruth Ozeki draws on her experiences as a TV documentary maker in this rich novel about the hormones in women, men and meat.

It's always hard to categorize Ozeki's books, since they contain so many themes, from hard-edge to soft-core. The multitude of themes is also one of the weaknesses of her novels, making them somewhat diffuse. Another disappointment is her penchant for rounding off stories; the pat conclusions and neat endings to so many tragic beginnings dilute the messages she strives so hard to communicate. The novel veers somewhat unnervingly from ghastly realism to rose-tinted romance.

But as always, her commitment to a cause shines through -- and in this novel, it is the abuses perpetrated on the public by the American meat industry through the hormones, antibiotics and other contaminants that have entered the food chain and the human population, with catastrophic consequences for all of us. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the characters in the novel wind up vegetarians! And all suffer from hormonal problems -- male hormones that produce aggression and violence, female hormones that should produce fertility, but veer hopelessly in unexpected directions. Visceral, often bloody, but always gripping, as hormones are wont to be.

The great strength of the book is that it's insanely readable, pulling you along from episode to episode. Ozeki is a fabulous communicator. I couldn't wait to get back to reading it, and I highly recommend it to everybody.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 March 2004
A book with a message? That could have had me - and probably many others - legging it in the opposite direction. I'm glad that I didn't, for this is no earnest veganism manifesto screaming of wellington boots, piercings and birdseed musli. Ruth L Ozeki tackles her meaty (haha!) topic heads-on, in a pacey, agreeable style. Her language is simple but assured, and the characters never fail to engage. Especially the no-nonsense voice of Jane, the Japanese-American film-maker at the heart of the story, comes across as compelling and believable. Jane is supposed to be an aspiring documentary-maker - and that's just what Ruth L. Ozeki seems to be herself. This is fiction that seems to be fact, not necessarily because of Ozeki's investigation of the meat industry (hey, I don't know what's true or not) but because of her investigation of the minds of people. Is this really a debut novel? It's really impressive that Ozeki has found such a confident voice already.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 3 October 2013
The book was very interesting and enjoyable. The food industry has a lot to answer for and this book helps inform you as to what questions to ask of the food you eat.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 July 2006
I was unexpectedly impressed with this book. From when I first picked it up I could not put this book down and have since gone on to search out other titles by the author, little realising this was a debut novel. The almost Feudal society in Japan is not patronised or deprecated but merely presented as it is. The mid-American society is also presented in an open manner. Each society has positive and negative aspects, and neither is stereotypical. In fact stereotypes are broken down, if a character appears to be two-dimensional further reading and character development soon makes this disappear. This book is a must for anyone who wants to read characters they can care about in societies they want to learn about regarding issues they need to know about. Highly recommended.
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