cover image Polite Lies

Polite Lies

Kyoko Mori. Henry Holt & Company, $22.5 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-4079-1

For the first 20 years of her life, Mori (The Dream of Water) felt straitjacketed by the Japanese culture in which she was raised; for the last 20, she has found liberation in Green Bay, Wis., of all places, where she teaches creative writing. In 12 plangent, autobiographical sketches, she recalls her experiences in both cultures and reflects on a series of defining issues, among them women, marriage, family, death, emotion, bodies and significant language characteristics. She claims she doesn't like to speak Japanese because to do so, ""you have to agree on... which one of you is superior, how close you expect to be... and who defers."" Although she excoriates the Japanese for elevating politeness above honesty, she values the comfort that traditions and rituals can offer, for example, at such times as death. This engagingly insightful discussion from one who has intimately experienced the two cultures is full of revelations about both. (Jan.)