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Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America Paperback – December 21, 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Seal Press (December 21, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158005191X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580051910
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #898,718 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When Furiya started eating lunches in the elementary school cafeteria, she was profoundly embarrassed by the rice balls her mom packed instead of a sandwich like all the other kids ate. She was already feeling self-conscious about being the only Japanese family in her 1960s Indiana hometown, and her parents' insistence on continuing to eat their native cuisine—they grew their own vegetables and drove for hours to visit big-city supermarkets that stocked Japanese imports—was frustrating because it intensified the differences between her and her classmates. But the exotic dishes were also a source of delight, and Furiya ends each chapter with a recipe for one of her favorite meals. There is more to the story than food, though, and she describes the anger she feels when shopkeepers make fun of her father's accent, or the amazement when her mother takes her back to Japan, with the same vividness she applies to recreating the sensations of her first taste of wasabi. Though she continues to chafe against her parents' emotional reticence, partly inspired by their arranged marriage, Furiya also comes to appreciate the values they handed down to her, and it's this love that dominates her nicely told story. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In her syndicated newspaper columns, Furiya has written about Asian cooking as well as growing up in the only Japanese family in a small Indiana town. In this memoir-cum-cookbook, she expands on those subjects in chapters that close with family recipes. Food is always at the center of Furiya's stories, which begin with her grade-school realization that her bento-box lunch sets her apart from her 1960s peers. In a voice that's angry, yearning, and direct, she remembers the bewildering pull between American and Japanese culture, and her complex struggles to form a cohesive, proud cultural identity. The specifics are moving and vivid, as is Furiya's universal wonderment about who her parents are, how they ended up together, and what her own grown-up life will be: "Someday you will shoot and follow your arrow," her father tells her. "My arrow, it landed here." Pair this with Diana Abu-Jabar's beautiful The Language of Baklava (2005), another culinary memoir of growing up with immigrant parents. Gillian Engberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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I remember the summer Linda went to Japan and had always wondered what the trip was like.
Walter E. Starr
Despite some heavy-handed passages, the book is a relatively light read that taps into darker themes in a most affecting manner.
Ed Uyeshima
I would recommend this as a light read to everyone craving for some good home-cooked Japanese food!

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Nikki Douglas on January 11, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I adored this book and devoured it like delicious sushi! Even though I am not Japanese-American I felt so much of Linda's story rang true to me as I also grew up in the heartland during my early teens through college. It may not have been the "country" as it was a suburb of Cleveland; but there is a small town feeling in the mid-west that is unlike anywhere else in this country. It was difficult enough for me to adjust coming from the East Coast - never mind a family with roots in Japan!

I especially identified with the cruelty of her classmates when she was young and then even later during a terrible occasion in high school that let her know no matter what - she was somehow, still on the outside, not accepted by her classmates. She must have felt very alone.

There was so much pain that her parents endured, so much suffering and to watch the older, grown-up Linda identify this and come to terms with it with such eloquence and respect was heart-rending.

Her characters are achingly real; I cared about them - even minor characters like her Grandmother and Aunt Jane. I cared about everyone who was a part of this experience, part of her experience.

Linda never makes herself the hero of her own tale. In fact her harshest words are about herself and the regrets she has. What this book is ultimately is a stripped away volume of the truth of a life, of a time in a life. It is all laid bare and exposed with no saccharin, no filler, clean, beautiful, and natural, very much like the Japanese cuisine that is so much a part of the telling.

As a passionate lover of Japanese food, the seamless integration of the role food played in her life and her family life makes this book a unique achievement. It's not a gushy foodie diatribe; but a rich first-person accounting of food as love.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By J. Lee on January 2, 2007
Format: Paperback
Linda Furiya's "Bento Box in the Heartland" is a candid, personal, and revealing memoir about the inextricable role of food and eating in the creation of her identity as an American of Japanese descent. Her upbringing in the homogeneous rural mid-west makes her tale of food, eating, and identity all the more rich. In her memoir she chronicles her journey of food and eating during the first 16 years of her life. She begins with a Japanese culture food metaphor where fish bones, and whether they choke on them or gracefully deal with the bones in their infancy, correlate with a person's health and future. She intimates the importance of Japanese food ingredients had to her parents as they tried to hold onto their Japanese culture. She parallels food with her racial insecurities, introductions to bigotry and racism, and a sense of self actualization and pride that she feels later in life. I found the chronicle of her pre-teen eating history, including a trip to Japan, to be the most solid and interesting material.

Furiya's writing ranges from inspired to mediocre. In general, her use of food imagery is on point; so often in writings of food authors over spice their gastro-metaphoric language, making their points seem contrived, cutesy, and less relevant. I was ignorant about Japanese food as I began this book, but I now feel more versed in Japanese home-cooking. The recipes included at the end of each chapter are great, and since the dishes are incorporated into the narrative they take on more meaning for the reader.

The weak points of the work are occasional, though infrequent, lapses into mediocre writing and problems with editing. For example, failure to consistently spell her grandmother's name left me confused about whether her name was Obachan or Obachen.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Ed Uyeshima HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on April 18, 2007
Format: Paperback
As a Japanese-American raised first in California and then in Texas, I can relate to many of the experiences that author Linda Furiya, a food columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, shares in her childhood memoir of growing up as a Nisei in a small Indiana community, in particular, the complex interdependency evident in her relationship with her Japanese-born mother. In fact, Furiya spends little time writing about her father or her brothers because of the especially symbiotic connection with her mother. Her particular back story as an atypically liberated woman in a male-dominated society lends an intriguing twist on the stereotype one usually associates with the traditional Japanese woman.

Similar to Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate, the book is a series of vignettes organized around selective memories of preparing and eating food reflective of the author's heritage. Whereas Esquivel opened each of her chapters with a recipe, Furiya chooses to close each chapter with one for family favorites such as Chinese Home-Style Tofu and Japanese Pot Stickers. Although the recipes make nice transitional points within her episodic structure, they actually aren't that necessary since she otherwise captures the pervasive dichotomy of having a racial identity utterly different from her surroundings in ways that are both poignant and painful. Some of the episodes felt so familiar to me that it made me wonder just how well Asian-Americans in general have assimilated into the mainstream.
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