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Rambling laundry lists of random events and random people
on 2 September 2012
Perhaps this was one of those writing class exercises that just went a bit wrong. It isn't a novel. The author uses a shotgun of experiences, made-up characters and a wealth of places rather than develop characters for which the reader could have some empathy. As many others have said, it reads like a laundry list that covers every potential situation in every possible context. It is lazy and unengaging.
If it had been positioned as a prose poem would it be more successful? Well I probably wouldn't have read it but I still think it would appear as lazy and poorly structured. I stayed through to the end because I had hoped that the inexorable stagger towards the injustices metered against those of Japanese Ancestry would finally reveal something of emotional resonance, insight, or even literal artistry. Instead Otsuka suddenly flips protangonist and without explanation the "several of us" that had introduced every new Japanese experience in the previous 110 pages now referred to the American's "left behind" - as if they were ever to leave. Even worse, the book becomes instantly racist, deriding the "negroes" and "Arkies" who came to take their place as infinitely worse than the "quiet Japanese" who had in their time been similarly shunned.
The sleeve notes refer to a story about identity and loyalty but none of those themes are really explored in the book. They came, they struggled and were second class citizens, some died, they were shunned and carted away. And in the end no-one cared and no-one remembered. A fitting epitaph for this book.