The Strangeness of Beauty

Lydia Y. Minatoya, Author Simon & Schuster $23 (384p) ISBN 978-0-684-85362-8
The autobiography, or ""I-story,"" of Etsuko Sone is the basis of this lyrical first novel by Minatoya, herself author of the memoir Talking to Monks in the Snow. Etsuko emigrates from Kobe to Seattle in 1918 with her husband, Tadoa, a kite maker who dreams of a career with Boeing; instead, he settles for a job on a fishing boat, and soon drowns. Several years later, Etsuko's sister dies in childbirth, and Etsuko helps raise the baby, Hanae, whose dentist father is a gambler and an ace on the Japanese three-cushion pool circuit. When Hanae is six and anti-Japanese sentiment is on the increase in the U. S., Etsuko is persuaded to take her back to Japan for a traditional upbringing in the house of Fuji. Etsuko has never herself lived in her family's home, having been cast out as an infant by a mother still reeling from the death of her firstborn son. Although she initially feels that she belongs in neither country, Etsuko comes to terms with her past and present, finally finding her purpose as Hanae prepares for upper-school graduation and the country prepares for war with China. Minatoya's unadorned prose has the evocative suggestibility of a Japanese print, and Etsuko's incisive, often wry observations resemble resonant lines of haiku. Ironically, the problems Etsuko identifies as inherent to the ""I-story""(self-absorption, narrowness, oblique indirection, dullness) are not entirely avoided here, however artful Etsuko's looping narrative. But they are present in the novel only occasionally and are more than offset by the richly detailed multigenerational and multicultural story. With candor, Minatoya analyzes the qualities (""eloquent silence, poetic hindsight, conversation crafted with the masked formality of actors performing ancient Noh theater"") that make life possible in crowded Japan, but seem ""ridiculous"" in America. While sometimes weighted down by bald passages of history, this highly unusual story offers valuable insights into Japanese culture. Agent, Sally Woford-Girand. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/31/1999
Release date: 06/01/1999
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 383 pages - 978-0-393-32140-1
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