Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire

David Mura, Author . Coffee House $14.95 (269p) ISBN 978-1-56689-215-5

In this uneven debut novel from poet and memoirist Mura (Turning Japanese ), third-generation Japanese-American Ben Ohara is haunted by the legacy of the WWII internment camps. Both of his parents were detained, and his father, Takeshi, was a “No-No Boy” whose refusal to join the armed forces planted the seed of his miserable demise by suicide. Now a 40-something “itinerant historian,” Ben receives a postcard sent 10 years earlier from his troubled younger brother, Tommy, shortly before he disappeared in the Mojave Desert. The long-delayed message revives Ben's interest in his unfinished book, a project that “betray[s] my lifelong fascination with the origins of my family's grief and madness.” Ben delves into his family's past in an attempt to understand what happened to his father and brother, and while the novel's first half vividly recounts Ben's childhood in Chicago's rough Uptown neighborhood, the second half sees the narrative losing energy as it becomes more contemplative and big family secrets are blandly revealed. Mura writes beautiful sentences, but the story becomes more slack just as it should be intensifying. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 06/23/2008
Release date: 09/01/2008
Genre: Fiction
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