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Getting Oriented: A Novel about Japan Paperback – July 13, 2011
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"An American tour guide in charge of a handful of motley, clueless compatriots finds his charges' eccentricities touching in this nicely noisy, descriptive novel. Wood ably manipulates his awkward Americans around Japanese tourist sites, and the reader finds his characters...winningly humorous and sympathetic."
About the Author
Wally Wood is a professional writer with 19 business books to his credit. A lifelong lover of Japan old and new, he has led tour groups through the country and vacationed there many times. He lives in Connecticut with his very-much-alive wife, Marian. For more about Japan and the writing life as well as a book club discussion guide, please visit his Getting Oriented blog at: http://gettingorientednovel.blogspot.com
Top customer reviews
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Although I have not suffered this loss and hope that I never do, as a child, I witnessed the devastation it caused to the aunt that raised my father when her husband of 76 years died without warning of a heart attack. It was as if someone had taken a knife to my father's beloved aunt and carved out half of her soul.
I also witnessed my mother's grief decades later when my father died after more than fifty years of marriage. She lived for another decade and suffered every day from his loss.
In "Getting Oriented", we are introduced to Phil Fletcher, who has lost his wife of more than 30 years. Her death was unexpected. She was in good health and was out jogging when a car hit her.
The depression caused by her loss has caused Phil to feel as if he has no purpose in life. He misses her and writes letters to her, which he saves on his laptop. Then months after her death, he loses his job. Since he is in his fifties, one would think this double blow would be enough to kill him too, but Phil and his wife planned carefully and he is financially secure.
Then Jake, an old college friend, offers him a job as a tour guide in Japan, and Phil is perfect for the job. When he served in the US military decades earlier, he learned to speak, write and read Japanese and accepts Jake's offer.
Phil's job in Japan is to shepherd ten middle-class Americans, and it seems to be the right medicine to help him recover from the loss of his wife, whom he will never forget.
Right from the start, Phil learns that being a tour guide is not as easy as one might suspect. Ann, an evangelical Christian and the oldest woman on the tour, warns Phil that Jesse and Sharleen, another couple on the tour, may be planning a double suicide while in Japan since Sharleen is dying of cancer and have weeks or months to live.
Then there is Audrey and Freddie Korch--two sisters. Freddie arrived in Japan several days before the tour started and picked up a Japanese lover in Nagasaki. His name is Kurotani and he appears to be a member of the Yakuza, the Japanese mob. Soon, it is obvious that the belligerent and moody Freddie is being addicted to a Japanese drug supplied by her lover and the drug is called Shabu, known as meth or speed in the West. Shabu is illegal in Japan. Get caught selling or using it and you will go to jail.
If that is not enough of a challenge, Louise, an attractive single woman, attempts to seduce Phil, but his grief at the loss of his wife gets in the way and he rejects her advances. However, this gets him thinking, and a few days later, when Julia comes to his hotel room, Phil cannot resist her and they have an affair. To make matters worse, Julia is not single. Her husband Sal, who is on his third marriage, is on the tour too, but he drinks too much and does not appear physically attracted to his wife. When Jake learns of Phil's affair with Julia, he worries that it might result in a lawsuit against his travel agency if Sal discovers what is going on.
As the plot thickens, Phil contacts two Japanese friends, Setsuko and her husband Kazuo. They meet for dinner and Setsuko introduces Phil to an attractive Japanese widow by the name of Mariko, and Phil is tempted to stay in Japan after the tour ends to connect with her.
Besides the multiple plot complications, there is the added treat of being taken on a rewarding tour of Japan. The author, Wally Wood, weaves flawless scenes of Japan while the group moves from site to site. These scenes are rich with history and sensory details that elevate the story to a level beyond the average novel providing a rich textual experience for readers. I highly recommend "Getting Oriented".
This novel would easily adapt to film, which I would pay to see. The copy of "Getting Oriented" that I read was supplied free by the author as a Kindle e-book.
A word about the rating system, which I have borrowed/adapted from Alice Wakefield, in an attempt to keep the star rating system meaningful.
* 5 stars are reserved for that rare work that reaches the level of a classic, such as a National Book Award, a Pulitzer or a Nobel Prize winner that compares to a Steinbeck or Mark Twain, which means the author impressed me beyond the average, entertaining book.
* 4 stars from me are high praise, meaning I enjoyed the novel and recommended it.*
* 3 stars mean I enjoyed the book and recommend it with some reservations.
Phil Fletcher, the book's protagonist, is a recently-widowed, laid-off publishing executive. His life would seem pointless to him if he could feel anything. So when an old college buddy who owns a travel agency asks Phil to step in at the last minute, to guide a group of 12 Americans traveling through Japan, Phil aimlessly agrees.
As befits the psychological truth of Phil's situation, and the needs of realistic fiction, Wood paints his main character as cynical, resentful and self-pitying. Yet, somehow, we keep rooting for him as Wood also lets the more touching aspects of Phil's humanity show through.
For example: Phil is so devastated by the death of his wife, Helen, so devoted to her memory, that he maintains a heartbreaking vigil, writing her secret, confessional letters most nights on his computer.
Wood deftly sketches the other tour members as a cross-section of irritable, easily distracted, middle class Americans. Their interactions with Phil and with each other are dryly funny, yet slowly, we learn that the arcs of their lives are as played out as Phil's.
But as the journey proceeds, Phil and the others begin exhibiting the tiniest, most incremental signs of spiritual and psychological rebirth. The signs are small, even incidental. Yet they have dramatic impact on the journey and the travelers themselves.
Meanwhile, we are treated to a stunning tour of Japan. The narrative subtly describes a thousand interesting facts and relevant truths about this most complex of nations--an ancient civilization that is among the world's most modern.
To become oriented means to face east, to ascertain one's bearings, to be set right through adjustment to certain facts. And this novel draws significant power from the most elemental of facts: all things pass. Death, in all its forms, is inescapable. The acceptance of this truth comes slowly but inevitably to Phil and his 12 charges, as they journey toward the rising sun, toward insights and new beginnings in an ancient world.
Getting Oriented is the perfect guide book for such a special tour.//
Now, reader beware, this novel does deal with sex a bit. I wouldn't say that it's erotica, far from it, but the people in the novel do seem a bit obsessed with the concept of sex, though, again, as this novel deals mainly with relationships, some of this can be expected. On the tour are some couples that are falling apart, couples that have fallen out of love, couples that are looking for rejuvenation, etc., and while some of those on the tour find their connections, others do not, creating a very interesting read as we watch the story unfold. Overall, I really enjoyed this novel and recommend it to those looking to learn a little about other cultures while learning a lot about humanity. Four
Most recent customer reviews
I took a copy of Getting Oriented on a recent trip to Europe and couldn't wait to settle in with it every evening.Read more