Amid all the Darkover Novels, dystopian stories and Dark Hunter romances, I found time to squeeze in a novel I picked up on sale at Chapters. Turning Japanese is a witty and entertaining, if somewhat self-indulgent, fictional tale of a half Japanese, half Italian-American young manga artist from a small town who wins an internship in Tokyo for a year.
Lisa Falloya has been reading manga for years when she wins the contest offered by one of the comic publishers in Tokyo. She soon finds herself leaving a boring desk job and workaholic fiancé behind for a year as she moves to Japan’s largest city where nothing goes quite as planned.
One of the reasons that I enjoyed this novel so much was that many of the places, foods and cultural references were familiar to me after our family’s visit to Tokyo in December of 2011. Many of the experiences that Cathy Yardley’s character describes in this first person narrative were ones that we could relate to. The only difference was that our family of people over 6’ got stared at a lot!!
The narrative in Turning Japanese is strong but somewhat whiny at times. While this seems true to the character and spurns her growth from timid sidekick to determined, independent female who empowers others around her wherever she goes, it was hard to like Lisa on more than one occasion. Some of the generalizations and stereotypes about Japanese society felt cliché… to easy a trap to fall into and to easy for a North American reading audience to believe. Just as Peter Mayle offended quite a few locals with his vignettes in A Year In Provence, I wonder how some Japanese people would feel about some of these sometimes less than flattering glimpses into their culture and society.
All in all, Turning Japanese was a fun read because I still miss Tokyo, I love comic books and I am a big fan of young women being able to choose their own destiny… but there were enough speed bumps along this journey that I can only give Turning Japanese a 3 star rating.
Paperback format, 310 pages, 2009 published by Thomas Dunne Books