Here’s a book I read with enjoyment and very little criticism. It follows a young American couple (Marina and Carolyn) as they move in together for the first time when they move to Japan to teach English. The culture shock and new pressures and expectations are beautifully integrated into the story.
The book incorporates many of the themes I like to see included: race, sexuality, culture, personal growth, relationship challenges, LGBTTQ*, mental illness, weird families, friendship, suicide, and so on—without making a big deal about any of them.The only exception would be the twinge of discomfort I always feel when a character is trying to choose between an attraction to two people, one of whom is a man and one a woman. I think this is because of my own mixed anger and ambivalence around bi-visibility and bi-erasure; choosing a man over a woman (or vice versa) feels political, not just personal or relational. It feels like choosing an identity as straight or gay, because the pressure all around is to choose sides rather than to be comfortable with rejecting that polarity. Anyway, that’s my own discomfort and not at all the fault of the author, who managed to convey the sexual fluidity of the main characters quite beautifully and without any (overt?) agenda.
The writing is smooth and the characters are believable, except for one of the minor characters, and even he makes more sense by the end. One thing I especially liked about this book was that it didn’t show the Westerners going to a different country and changing the town or “emancipating” people’s thinking. Instead, the white Americans are trying to understand and be respectful of the rules and constraints imposed upon them. In fact, it is how they navigate and operate within those constraints that provides the tensions that push the story forward.
I’d recommend this one.
If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous.