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Bicycle Days Paperback – April 27, 1999

11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Fresh out of Yale, Alec Stern spends a summer working in an American computer company's Tokyo offices. Schwartz, a 23-year-old Harvard grad, vividly sets the scene of his promising if overly self-absorbed debut novel. Alec's romance with a 33-year-old Japanese woman, Kawashima, is the highlight of his stay. Through flashbacks to his boyhood in New York City, we learn that he came to the Orient partly to wipe the slate clean, to escape memories of his parents' divorce and his bitter fights with his older brother Mark. But Mark's unexpected appearance in Tokyo, combined with the death of Kawashima's aged grandfather, jolt Alec out of his Shangri-La. Schwartz has a good ear for the humorous misunderstandings and cultural differences that often arise in Japanese-American interactions. Unfolding in 40 vignettes sketched in a lean, almost mimimalist style, the diary-like narrative evokes a medley of sights and experiences with which Western readers can readily identify--a view of Mount Fuji, pachinko (pinball) parlors, the tea ceremony, coping with subways, Japanese family customs, shopping in department stores and fish markets.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Graceful ... reminiscent of Fitzgerald.... [It] leaves us holding our breath for more." —San Francisco Chronicle

"Luminous...linger[s] after the story is finished." —The New York Times Book Review

"Has freshness and energy...announces the debut of a bright new voice in fiction." —The New York Times

"Schwartz subtly evokes the stirrings and upheavals of a culture, and a person, in transition." —Detroit Free Press

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Vintage contemporaries ed edition (April 27, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037570275X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375702754
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,723,152 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Burnham Schwartz grew up in New York City. At Harvard College, he majored in Japanese studies, and upon graduation accepted a position with a prominent Wall Street investment bank, before finally turning the position down after selling his first novel. That book, BICYCLE DAYS, a coming of age story about a young American man in Japan, was published in 1989 on his 24th birthday. It went on to become a critically acclaimed bestseller.

RESERVATION ROAD, his second novel about a family tragedy and its aftermath, published in 1998, was also critically acclaimed and a bestseller, and in 2007 it was made into a major motion picture based on Schwartz's screenplay. The film starred Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Connelly, and was directed by Terry George.

Schwartz went on to publish CLAIRE MARVEL, a love story set in America and France, and, in 2008, THE COMMONER, a novel inspired by the lives of the current empress and crown princess of Japan. Spanning seventy years of modern Japanese history and looking deep into the secret, ancient world of the Japanese Imperial Family, THE COMMONER has won Schwartz the best reviews and sales of his career.

In July of 2011, Random House will publish Schwartz's fifth novel, NORTHWEST CORNER, which picks up the lives of some of the characters from RESERVATION ROAD twelve years later. NORTHWEST CORNER is an urgent, powerful story about family bonds that can never be broken and the wayward roads that lead us back to those we love.

Schwartz's work has been translated into more than 20 languages. He is a recipient of a Lyndhurst Prize for mastery in the art of fiction, and his journalism has appeared widely in such publications as The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The Boston Globe, and Vogue.

Since writing the script for Reservation Road, Schwartz has become an accomplished screenwriter as well as a novelist. He has written screen adaptations of New York Times editor Dana Canedy's memoir "A Journal for Jordan," and Nancy Horan's bestselling novel Loving Frank for Sony Pictures and Lionsgate, respectively. He is currently creating a dramatic television series for Showtime, inspired by Den of Thieves, James Stewart's acclaimed account of the insider-trading corruption scandal of the 1980s.

Schwartz has taught fiction writing at Harvard, The University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, and Sarah Lawrence College, and he is the literary director of the Sun Valley Writers' Conference, one of the leading literary festivals in the United States.

He lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, screenwriter and food writer Aleksandra Crapanzano, and their son, Garrick.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 29, 1999
Format: Paperback
I read the author's book "Reservation Road" and was blown away by it. This book was a big disappointment and I had to force myself to complete it. Having spent some time living in Japan, I enjoyed the descriptions of daily life, which are vivid. However, the characters seem to be pieces on a game board who are moved around artificially without motivations that ring true. Alternately the main character is thuddingly dull, or maddeningly self-involved. The characters around him are all very one-note, particularly the young women who seem to exist only for his pleasure. Read "Reservation Road," which is outstanding, and avoid this earlier effort at all costs.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By lisatheratgirl VINE VOICE on January 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
The story of an American transplanted into Japanese society is a fascinating idea, and the author's descriptions of Tokyo and Japanese life and customs lived up to my expectations. The main character (Alec) however, seemed to be a stereotypical insensitive American, with not much feeling for anyone but himself. The other thing that got to me was the alternating of stories from Alec's childhood with the main action. It seems to be a popular technique, telling two stories in one, but it's not easy to pull off. In many of these novels, including Bicycle Days, I felt the author kept interrupting me in the middle of what I was interested in to drag me back to obscure past incidents that seemed irrelevant. As a reader I find this irritating. The only way it works is if the past story and the present one are equally interesting, or if the past contains some secret that is gradually being revealed and the author is building up the reader's suspense. Otherwise, divorced parents, loneliness at boarding school, sibling rivalry, the terrible angst of a rich WASP in New England, have been gone over so many times in so many books that this is no more than excess baggage.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Bookaholic on October 8, 2006
Format: Paperback
Before the white foreigner in Tokyo became a common premise, this book was published. It was the writer's first novel, and I remember seeing it at the Tattered Cover (Denver's famous independent bookstore) and thinking it would be interesting to read about Tokyo and Japanese culture. This was in 1990 -- way before it became "cool" to ponder Japan (and even before we thought they were going to take us over with their televisions). This was also before there was so much hype surrounding novels, before novels were an event, or were praised for having incomplete sentences, stream of conciousness, and being full of themselves (wow, how genius!). I read this book finally a few days ago (a whole decade plus after buying it -- ooops!). I feel it was truly refreshing to read an old school, straight up novel, minus all the "look at how smart I am". It's a coming of age novel, and it was ahead of the Japan-phile curve. I think the other reviewers are kind of hard on this book (of course the narrator is selfish -- he's a recent college grad -- who isn't selfish at this stage?). The book won't change your life, but it's a good read, and you will feel sympathy for the narrator, who is trying to figure out his place in the world.
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By A Customer on November 30, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I disagree with the other reviewers as to Schwartz's capturing of the Japanese portions of this book. Obviously Schwartz appears to have hit many of the images that those not familiar with Japan may have (without being stereotypical), but most of the images he evokes are not the real thing. From the start, for example, I have never known a Japanese family to host a foreigner without going to the airport to pick them up; I don't know of any bus from the airport that goes to Takedanobaba station; etc. Many of the vignettes, in fact, could have been gleaned from skimming the Western press (NY Times, Time, etc) social/cultural coverage of Japan. However, Schwartz's brief dips into scenes at a private boarding school and Ivy League college do hit the mark, making me think that he should have spent some more time doing his homework on the main setting (Japan).
Beyond his characterizations, I found the story of a fresh-faced college graduate burdened by a Freudian mother complex, depressed by his parents' divorce, and engaged in ongoing conflict with a more athletic older brother so ready for exploitation (however cliche it may appear to some) and yet, it winds up rather lackluster. The author's depiction of Alec's self-absorption -- and at the same time, self-loathing -- was set out at least half decently in those scenes where he interacts with (and often treats poorly) Japanese women.
Not the worst book of fiction written about Japan by a non Japanese, but far from the best.
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Format: Paperback
Alec, a disconnected, detached, melancholy young adult, tries to escape his family ties by moving to Japan and starting life with a clean slate. Except he can't. His awkwardness follows him and creates similar situations halfway around the world.
Alec's lack of depth is astounding. He falls for an older Japanese woman, only to realize he lost her after she declares how difficult it is to love him. There's no urgency to his feelings, just acceptance of whatever happens. And then misgivings later. Or reliance on other people's advice.
The book ends with a choice Alec makes, and one is left with the feeling that ultimately, it wouldn't have mattered what he decided.
Schwartz' strong suit in this book is creating many endearing minor characters, particularly Grandfather.
I am not comfortable with melancholy people, and do not enjoy reading about them. They bore me to tears. So to be fair to this writer, I wish to say that there are large swaths of literature that are highly regarded for which I have no patience. I might be in the minority.
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