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Gaby Stanton, fired from her job as a university professor in provincial Shizuoka, has a gig selling fantasy funerals to the dying Japanese rich. Her job puts her in the path of Alexander Thorn, a middle-aged American who has just arrived in Japan determined to decipher the mystery surrounding the death of his son, an exchange student. The perspective of the novel shifts back and forth between these two characters as Gaby and Alexander stumble on a yakuza ring, unearth medical secrets, and sprout romantic feelings for each other. The two gradually develop a Hepburn-Tracy-style combative relationship. Still, Backer's sympathies clearly lie with Gaby, a thirtysomething woman with health problems who relishes her automatic outsider status in Japan. If everything she does is strange to her host culture, then her illness doesn't matter. But the introduction of Alexander is a wise move, allowing Backer to show us Japan through the perpetually startled eyes of a newcomer.
While the writing sometimes falls short of grace, Backer has an infallible sense of the kind of detail that brings Japan alive. She has no qualms about taking a page to explain how, say, Japanese banking works, and her confidence in her material makes the novel fly. The book is given surprising depth by the two main characters. Both are discontented with their lot, and neither is at all traditionally appealing. (Of Alexander, Backer writes, "He had the face of a man who could win the election, but not this year.") By giving us such warty characters in such an oddball setting, Backer has fashioned a novel with some real staying power. --Claire Dederer
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Great book. Fascinating, intriguing plot & characters! Thank you.Published 3 months ago by Consumer
This book was suggested to me by a colleague, since I had travelled to Japan a couple years ago. I found it very interesting and enjoyable to read. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Traci Thompson
All I can say is that it makes me sad that Sara Backer only wrote one book. I studied Japanese and spent a month there when I was in college. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Nandomom
Sara Backer captures the culture of Japan in this tale that spans the range of emotions from despair to redemption. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Nancy Mac
These days, I am very much interested in Japan for personal reasons.
I'm learning the language and reading books on the country. Read more
I just loved this book. Got right on amazon to see if she has another novel available for me to read and I'm sad to see there is not a new book available. Read morePublished on June 27, 2012 by Lois Lee
Imagine yourself as a middle-aged Japanese man, with no knowledge of American culture and no ability to speak or understand English, and you find yourself in America--not in New... Read morePublished on October 18, 2011 by Petsounds
My husband and I are Americans who lived in Japan, and found this book the closest depiction of the country and people we've ever seen in fiction. Neither of us could put it down. Read morePublished on October 7, 2011 by BayAreaTrishaG