The Ocean in the Closet

Yuko Taniguchi, Author . Coffee House $14.95 (268p) ISBN 978-1-56689-194-3

Helen Johnson, the nine-year-old narrator of Taniguchi's slight debut novel, shoulders the burden of her war-scarred family's sadness. Watching Saigon's evacuation on television, Helen's parents are already suffering from post-traumatic depression: her deeply depressed mother was born in Japan after World War II, the child of a Caucasian soldier and a Japanese woman, while her father is haunted by his tour of duty in Vietnam. When her mother is institutionalized, Helen and her brother are sent to live with their uncle, Steve. A few conversations with Steve give Helen the courage to contact her mother's Japanese uncle, Hideo, in an attempt to understand her mother's past. Though Taniguchi divides narrative duties between Helen and Hideo, their voices are largely indistinct, and their need for connection forced. Very little actually happens, and most metaphors—like the ocean of the title—are flogged into uselessness. A more astute narrator might have risen to the challenge, but Helen is too naïve—even for her age—to carry it off. (May)

Reviewed on: 03/26/2007
Release date: 05/01/2007
Genre: Fiction
Discover what to read next