Losing Kei is about an American woman who moves to Japan, has a child with a man in an increasingly troubled (and typically Japanese) marriage, and eventually loses the child when they divorce.
As with a lot of other novels by ex-pat writers, personal peeves about Japan abound. In fact, I suspect that's what drives people to write about Japan more than anything -- to vent at the wacky society we live in here. Can't say I blame them for doing it -- I'll probably join that party at some point before I leave Japan myself.
In the first half of the book, her pet peeves are mix...続きを読む ›
There's an old quote that says "A mother who is really a mother is never free". This, as any mother knows couldn't be more true and unfortunately Jill Parker finds this out the hard way in this wonderful book by Suzanne Kamata.
Jill is reeling from a bad relationship, and instead of traveling to Africa, the site of her now ex-boyfriend, she decides to take a fellowship to Japan for a fresh start. She falls in love with the culture, and soon with one of its residents, Yusuke Yamashiro. They have a whirlwind romance, and decide to elope to avoid conflict with his parents. After all she is an American and probably not someone they would approve of him marrying seeing as he is the sole heir to the Yamashiro estate.
Not long into the marriage, Jill finds out that she is pregnant. Even though she is thrilled at the thought of bringing a new life into this world, she is becoming less tolerant of her role in the Yamashiro household. She wants nothing more than to be able to move into a house of their own, but when a tragedy strikes the family it is soon evident that she will never be free.
When young Kei is born she focuses all of her energy on him, after all he is absolutely perfect and the only thing she needs to get her through her lonely days. With a domineering yet needy mother-in-law, and a workaholic husband, he is the only thing in her life that brings her ultimate joy. But soon it is not enough and she decides that her marriage to Yusuke must come to an end. If she was aware of the laws of Japan when it comes to custody of children, she may not have chosen to do this.
After doing some research I have found out some interesting facts:
-Joint custody is illegal in Japan -Japanese courts do not recognize foreign custody orders J-apanese court orders for custody are not enforceable -Natural parents do not have priority in future custody changes -Discrimination against non-Japanese in granting child custody -Fathers of Children Born Out of Wedlock Have No Custodial Rights -No system to register a foreign parent's contact information -Mothers granted child custody in 80% of court decisions -Child abuse and other psychological factors are ignored in family court decisions -Adoptions are permitted without approval of the non-custodial natural parent and without approval of a court -Government officials refuse to help a parent find a child being hidden by the other parent
Unfortunately I was not totally shocked by some of these statements, I just know that I sympathized to my very core with Jill, knowing what kind of fight she was in for to try and get visitation, much less custody of a son born in her husbands native land.
This book is one I would recommend to anyone. It was thoroughly engaging, and gave you a glimpse of how different cultures handle something that is very common here in the US. Well done!
Questions for the author:
Are you a mother?
Yes. I'm the mother of eight-year-old twins - a girl, and a boy. I dedicated the book to my son.
What made you decide to move to Japan (I have always been fascinated with the culture myself)?
I think I originally became interested in Japan through literature. I fell in love with Heian court poetry when I was studying Asian history in college. I loved the idea that courtiers communciated via verse. I also read a couple of novels while I was in college - Equal Distance by Brad Leithauser and Ransom by Jay McInerney - that piqued my interest.
I had the opportunity to go to Japan for one year on a program sponsored by the Japanese government which invites young native speakers of English to assist in English classes in public schools. I renewed for a second year, and during that year I met my husband, who is Japanese.
Do you miss anything about the US?
I miss the wide open spaces, and I think that Americans are more tolerant of differences. I also miss libraries and bookstores full of books in English!
What advice would you give new authors?
Persistence is key! I wrote four novels before this one, and I've sent short stories out twenty times or more before getting them accepted for publication.
I also think it's important to finish your work. At some point you might get discouraged and think that what you're writing will never pan out, but if you don't get it down, you'll have nothing to work with.
Also, join a writing group. And read, read, read.
As a long term (nearly 30 years) resident of Japan, who is also married to a Japanese man and has two children, I was delighted to read a book about Japan that shows an accurate side of Japanese life. Don't get me wrong, the custody battle and Jill's relationships with her husband and mother-in-law only describe one family's life, and should not be generalized to include all Japanese families. But there is no doubt in my mind that Suzanne Kamata really KNOWS Japan and writes as an insider, and not as someone who knows a little bit about Japan and novelized their experience. I am really looking forward to reading her future novels.
Kamata's debut novel a gem!2008/4/26
Even without being a parent, I can imagine that a parent's greatest fear is of losing a child. Suzanne Kamata illustrates this fear with palpable intensity in her debut novel Losing Kei. The novel opens in 1997 with main character Jill Parker watching her son from a distance on the playground only to have him whisked away by his grandmother, closing after only two short pages with the lines: "I have lost him again. I have lost my son Kei." The impact of the scene and those lines are what is best about Kamata's novel. Packed with mystery about what has happened to cause Jill to be separated from her son, to cause the grandmother to shield the boy from his mother as if she were a criminal or worse, are the bedrock on which Kamata has staked her foundation. Kamata exposes Japanese xenophobic custody laws, which, in the case of a "gaijin" marriage to a native, the child is almost always awarded to the Japanese parent. The scenes of Jill's loss and yearning are poignant and emotionally rich. Beyond the initial scene of spying on her child like a voyeur, the novel Losing Kei charts the course of Jill Parker, an American artist, who tries to escape her broken heart in Japan, but finds it difficult to leave behind memories of her American ex-boyfriend. While working as a bar hostess, she falls in love with a Japanese man, Yusuke. They marry and a have a son, Kei, but the marriage and the life Jill believed she would have begins to unravel. Kamata generates suspense by interspersing chapters of Jill's back story, told in past tense, with the scenes from the "present" (1997). Though the fact of the separation and the inevitable end of Jill's marriage to Yusuke are revealed early, the reasons are the story the novel slowly unspools. In one scene, Jill stakes out the home that she had shared with Kei's father and grandmother; once everyone has gone to sleep, she invades the home, like a stalker or a detective. Present tense and facility with language drive these scenes hard with ever-increasing momentum demonstrating why Kamata has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize five times. Her sparse prose and deft touch with language are what best recommend Kamata as a writer. The rhythms of lean prose trimmed of fat and short scenes finely honed for maximum impact make the novel a fast and powerful read. Kamata is also at her best when she details the landscape of Jill's world, Japan, a world Kamata knows from her own experience. Though born and raised in Michigan, she moved to Japan many years ago to teach English and married a Japanese man; today, they are raising twin children - a brother and a sister - in rural Tokushima. Knowing the world of Japan as she does from the perspective of an American trying to fit in to a culture that sees her at best as a visitor and at worst as an outsider or interloper, Kamata has an exacting eye for the precise details that will best underpin her story. The novel may have benefitted from more of these details of Japan, more of Jill Parker's odd role as stranger in a strange land. Because these are the novel's strength too much spent away from them seems to weaken the story's overall impact and its plot development toward a satisfying ending. what Kamata does include is well wrought but more may have been better. In the end, Losing Kei is about more than a mother's separation from her son, it's a journey of self-discovery and personal growth for a woman living as an expatriate, trying to find her way in a culture that is often dismissive if not hostile to others. Though comparisons to Lost in Translation and Kramer vs. Kramer are misleading at best, the novel Kamata has written is well worth a reader's time. Beautifully packaged by Leapfrog Press, Losing Kei is a gem.
Highly Accurate Depiction of Family Life in Japan2008/3/11
In "Losing Kei," Suzanne Kamata presents a highly accurate depiction of family life in Japan, especially in the protagonist's marriage and interactions with her mother-in-law. Those who have lived in or visited Japan will appreciate this especially, and those who haven't will find a wealth of illuminating details, all written in Kamata's elegant and poignant prose style.
Well written debut2008/3/2
This is a good debut novel. Like the author and the heroine of the book I am married to a Japanese man and live in Japan and while there is a great deal of truth to the story some things were pure fantasy. Like who but the most wealthy of ex-pats takes a taxi from Narita? That is more than a $100 tab right there. It may even be $200. I've never done it myself. I also could not figure out why a woman who speaks Japanese and has a college degree isn't doing something else for a living. Certainly she could get a job teaching English and get a work visa at the same time.
Despite these little quibbles (and I'm nitpicking here!) the book is lyrical and well paced and I was able to read it in one sitting on an overcast Sunday when I was stuck in bed with a bad cold. It made an otherwise miserable day enjoyable.