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There are few cultural gaps as confusing for Americans as the one between the patterns and assumptions of the U.S. mainland and the Japanese home islands. Simple things, like finding a street address, ordering something by telephone, or understanding what someone is telling you, become extraordinarily difficult. In the process, it is natural to criticize the other culture . . . rather than to see the differences as a gap without making judgments.
Like Shogun, American Fuji casts you deep into the Japanese culture, as you try to think your way through whatever happens. You will find yourself identifying with the challenges that face two Americans, Dr. Alex Thorn (in Japan for a book tour and to find out more about the death of his only son) and Gaby Stanton, former English professor who finds herself excluded in a culture that strongly favors Japanese males.
Although this same book could have been written in a very heavy way that left you feeling drained emotionally, I was impressed that the book make me feel very upbeat and energized. Ms. Sara Backer has a talent for finding the ridiculous, and building it into a crescendo of imagery that will leave you feeling both relieved and enlightened. Her use of toilet facilities in Japan is just one such device.
If you are thinking about working in Japan, you might want to read this book in order to get some additional background on what the transition issues can be like.
If not, I still think this book will narrow the cultural gap between the two nations far more than any diplomacy can hope to achieve.
After you are done with this fine, humorous novel, I suggest that you think about where you assume the worst about people who behave differently than you do. Is your assumption borne out by experience? If not, why not change your assumption?
Assume the best . . . and you may well experience it more often!
The only clue Alex possesses is the cancelled check he made out to "Gone with the Wind," a Disney-like funeral service. Alex meets expatriate American Gaby Stanton, who informs him her company, has no record of his son and the bill is a clever forgery. Together they look for answers and Alex's grief lessens as he comes to care for his companion. She, in turn, learns that she wants to remain in Japan for more than just the medical coverage that helps pay for her health condition.
Sara Barker has written a mainstream drama that is unusual and poignant. The audience gains a unique glimpse into Japanese culture while realizing that when East meets West, anything can happen. AMERICAN FUJI has cross-genre appeal to a wide range of readers who loyally will look for more novels by Ms. Barker.