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Condition: Used: Good
Comment: Ex-Library: contains identifying library markings but withdrawn from circulation
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The Ocean in the Closet Paperback – May 1, 2007

3.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Helen Johnson, the nine-year-old narrator of Taniguchi's slight debut novel, shoulders the burden of her war-scarred family's sadness. Watching Saigon's evacuation on television, Helen's parents are already suffering from post-traumatic depression: her deeply depressed mother was born in Japan after World War II, the child of a Caucasian soldier and a Japanese woman, while her father is haunted by his tour of duty in Vietnam. When her mother is institutionalized, Helen and her brother are sent to live with their uncle, Steve. A few conversations with Steve give Helen the courage to contact her mother's Japanese uncle, Hideo, in an attempt to understand her mother's past. Though Taniguchi divides narrative duties between Helen and Hideo, their voices are largely indistinct, and their need for connection forced. Very little actually happens, and most metaphors—like the ocean of the title—are flogged into uselessness. A more astute narrator might have risen to the challenge, but Helen is too naïve—even for her age—to carry it off. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The aftermath of war lies at the core of this engaging novel, which also explores the universal themes of ties to both family and homeland. The world seems to be crumbling around nine-year-old Helen and her younger brother, children of a mixed marriage in San Francisco in 1975. Their mother, Anna, a Japanese American World War II orphan, is increasingly paranoid. Neither she nor their father, still haunted by his part in the Vietnam War, are able to care for their kids, so he asks his brother Steve and his wife to take temporary responsibility. But Helen contacts her mother's uncle Hideo in Japan, setting in motion the healing process her family so dearly needs. Taniguchi shifts between Helen's voice and Hideo's, giving her the opportunity to delve into Anna's disassociation from her roots and Hideo's experience in the destruction of postwar Japan. "Our memories," he tells Steve when they meet in Japan, "are like a terminal illness growing inside our brains." Taniguchi's debut offers a lyrical telling of a little-explored piece of history. Deborah Donovan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 255 pages
  • Publisher: Coffee House Press; F First Edition, First Printing edition (May 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566891949
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566891943
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,419,519 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By G. T. Sosnowski on August 2, 2007
Format: Paperback
The Ocean in the closet is a fantastic and beautifully written book...And now one of my favorites.
I ordered this book as soon as it came out, after having read Taniguchi's "Foreign Wife Elegy".

The story is about a mother, Anna, going through a nervous breakdown, and her young daughter Helen, trying to understand why. This leads Helen to Hideo's home in Japan. Hideo has been wondering about Anna, his niece, who was adopted by a family in the U.S.

I enjoyed the easy flow between Hideo/Japan & Helen/USA (notice the chapter titles!). I also enjoy Taniguchi's writing - her similes, metaphors, allegories, how Helen & Hideo describe their feelings.

It's a well-written beautiful story with fantastic imagery and descriptions.

I would definitely like to see another novel (or book of poetry) by Yuko Taniguchi.
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Format: Paperback
Yuko Taniguchi has written a book of pure poetry--honest, transformative and layered with sensory nuances. She shows us how all children find the door within the closet.

BTW: Fine line between armchair critic and literary hitman and sorry to see quite a few people crossing it on amazon. an unfortunate trend for certain non-literary readers to rip apart serious works of prose, condemning them because they lack vapid characters and plots worthy of a lifetime special. when the work is emotionally challenging, it seems to enrage some readers the point of making a personal attack on the author. i hope this author listens only to the praise. onward to her!
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Format: Paperback
This isn't so much a story about how families are torn by war, or how racially mixed immigrants struggle to fit in, as much as it is about the plight of a kid whose parents don't even seem to deserve to be parents.

It is November 1975, in Japan, and a man named Hideo Takagawa is uneasy about a letter from a young Helen Johnson in America, who identifies Takagawa as her mom's uncle. Helen tells her Uncle that her mom is sick and asks if she could visit him in Japan. Hideo remembers Helen's mom named Anna, but only as a baby. He is queasy. This letter opens up wounds from the past.

Then the narration switches to Helen. We are held captive by her innocence,candor, and worries. Helen tells us about things that are very abnormal at home about her Mom and Dad. "What is wrong with this family?" readers think with alarm. Be prepared to turn the pages quickly. What worse things might happen?

When narration switches back to Hideo, we learn about the suffering of Hideo's sister named Ume, who is Anna's mother and Helen's maternal grandmother. We cling to Hideo's stories of his silky Asian childhood dominated by callous males and we watch as his mostly loveless family unravels during and after World War II.

The story fast-forwards to Helen and now we really simmer at the actions of the adults in her life. Helen learns remarkable new things about her mom's and dad's past. She wants to know more because she hopes she can help Mom.

Author Taniguchi's language is both poetic and convincing. The narrators seem authentic and believable. As Helen's thoughts race with impulsive questions and her feelings shift between anger and hope, readers forget their surroundings and think like a girl.
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Format: Paperback
In my vast reading experience, I have yet to find many novels that really speak to the aftermath of war in the way that this one did for me. Honestly, war is one major topic I tend to shy away from in my reading. Maybe that this book focuses on the affects of war, and how they reverberate through generations is why I managed to get through it and love every page.

The story is told from two perspectives; the first is Helen, a nine year old girl living with a father suffering from PTSD (a Vietnam vet) and a mother who is disconnected from reality. When she's sent to live with her aunt and uncle, she begins to discover things about her parents which lead her on a journey to Japan to discover more about her mother's past.

The second is Hideo, Helen's great-uncle. From him, we learn about Ume, Helen's grandmother, and Helen's mother Anna. The strict Japanese culture combined with the horrors of WWII in Japan lead Ume to make horrible decisions to give her child the best possible life. Here we see how the history of this family is passed down to Helen, and how Helen must be the one to reconnect with the past instead of being distant from it.

Language is everything in this book; from the way the image of water is depicted to the culture of Japan, every page is beautiful. It surprises you and breaks your heart with the stories revealed, but the whole time you see how the awful pasts of each character reflects in their present. It's not always a positive reflection, but it is always honest. Rarely do you get a book that's honesty moves you as much as this one does.
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