Face of a Stranger

Yoji Yamaguchi, Author
Yoji Yamaguchi, Author HarperCollins Publishers $18 (202p) ISBN 978-0-06-017235-0
Reviewed on: 05/29/1995
Release date: 06/01/1995
Paperback - 978-0-06-092733-2
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Set in an early-20th century California city with a large Japanese immigrant community, this first novel has some memorable and characters and authentic touches, but Yamaguchi attempts one too many plot twists. Kikue and Shino, prostitutes indentured to Kato, the local strong man, are surprised one night when they encounter ``vain, handsome Takashi Arai,'' whom each recognizes as the man whose photograph and putative marriage proposal lured her to America years earlier. Before the night is over, Kikue concocts a plot to exact revenge on him and, in the process, buy her freedom from Kato. Takashi is many things-a raconteur, a deadbeat, a gambler-but a pimp he isn't. Some years earlier, an old man conned him out of a snapshot of himself, and, ever since, prostitutes have recognized him as their intended. Other people become involved in Kikue's plot-Kato's goon; a group of evangelical Christians; an illiterate farmer; and a beautiful and elusive young woman. Yamaguchi does a fine job of evoking ``China Alley,'' the marginal neighborhood (named for a previous wave of immigrants) in which his Japanese characters live. Often, however, the prose is stilted, even dated, bestowing an awkwardly formal rhythm on a story of mostly comic, earthy fare. In the end, Kikue's scheme to get even with Takashi is neither convincing nor compelling, concluding in a rushed ending and a throwaway punch line. (June)
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