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If You Follow Me: A Novel Paperback – March 9, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
In Watrous's proficient debut, 22-year-old Marina and her girlfriend Carolyn are new residents in a quirky Japanese town where they teach English while learning their own lessons about gomi, or garbage disposal. Aside from the local obsession with trash, living in smalltown Shika is a welcome respite for Marina, who grapples with her father's suicide (he was indirectly responsible for her introduction to Carolyn; they met in a bereavement group), and although she hopes to move past his death during her year in Japan, he begins to feel more alive to her, as if his presence made the trip as well. Meanwhile, the peculiar absurdities of being a stranger in a strange land abound (how does one properly dispose of a refrigerator?), and though this tale of culture shock, growing up, and throwing out isn't especially distinguished from its fish-out-of-water peers, it does the trick as a diversion. (Mar.)
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Poor Marina. Her job as an English teacher in Japan isn’t exactly what she expected. She’s been assigned to a remote rural region, where her she lives in a small, dingy apartment, and her students run the gamut from the quirky to the perverse. It doesn’t help matters that she and her significant other, Carolyn, who is also a teacher, are having problems. (Each realizes—too late—that the foreign surroundings and circumstances have placed too much stress on their relatively new relationship.) A well-meaning administrator named Miyoshi does his best to help Marina navigate her way through difficult days. He benefits from the relationship, too; he’s able to practice his English. Marina soon grows fond of Miyoshi. Are her feelings for him simple gratitude for his kindness or something more? Debut author Watrous, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, renders lively prose and memorable characters (there’s a macho Japanese student athlete with an Afro, bronzed skin, and bling), but the outsider theme becomes somewhat repetitive over the novel’s 300-plus pages. --Allison Block
Top customer reviews
Malena Watrous has done a wonderful job of weaving in the Japanese culture and language without once being preachy or having it sound like an exposition. And she writes about the idiosyncrasies of the culture and the characters without coming off as cocky or derogatory. I particularly appreciated that each chapter started with a japanese word that lead us through the chapter. I had no idea till I read the anglification of Japanese words till I read this lovely book.
Though Watrous had me laughing so hard I dropped my book on several occasions, it was often a bittersweet kind of laughter - not "ha, ha, ha." Bittersweet because the writing is so honest. The character of the Japanese supervisor and English teacher is one of my favorite characters in all of literature. His "Japlish" letters are unconventional to say the least, but his affection for his students and for Marina in particular made me love him all the more. You'll meet other Japanese characters in FOLLOW that will seem more familiar than foreign - in particular a first grade boy whose relationship with his autistic brother is complicated but oh so human.
I ordered this book from Amazon this week and finished it almost overnight. I could not attend to anything else. It's that kind of story. Read it. You won't regret it.
The world Watrous creates feels so real that you can easily see yourself in Marina's shoes, dealing with a beat-up car, sneakily disposing of a refrigerator, counseling a student in crisis. Watrous portrays a series of unique and specific characters with empathy, complexity and humor: the teacher struggling with an autistic son at home, the dentist who stretches out his treatments in order to practice English with his patients, and most of all, the proper, sensitive supervisor with whom she may be falling in love. The result is a highly original and moving account of coming of age away from home. Marina's point of view is ironic but never cynical, sympathetic but never sentimental, linguistically clever but never obscure, and above all, self-deprecating and observant on every page. I can't recommend this book highly enough.
Most recent customer reviews
Living and working in a foreign country (and Japan at that, can't get much more culture-shocky than that, I think) is...Read more