cover image Brazil-Maru


Karen Tei Yamashita / Author Coffee House Press $19.95 (248p)

Yamashita (whose Through the Arc of the Rain Forest won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize) extensively researched this exotic fictional account of ``educated Japanese Christians with socialist sentiments'' who relocate to the northwestern corner of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Five narrators trace the development of the Japanese immigrant community in Esperanca from 1925 to the present . In part I, Ichiro Terada details the group's passage from Japan and introduces his friend Kantaro Uno, a charismatic but tragically flawed visionary who will become the community's leader. In part II, Kantaro's wife Haru Okumura describes the suffering she and the community must endure because of his autocratic ways. Telling his own story in part III, Kantaro discloses a secret city life, including an affair with a mistress, which backfires when he squanders the community's resources to support idealistic ventures. Part IV and the epilogue reveal the exigencies of modern life in the words of Genji, an artist who flees his uncle Kantaro's influence, and of the political exile Guilherme. Throughout, the book weighs many questions as if judging their worth: Personal fulfillment, or sacrifice? Loyalty toward family, country or self? What is a valuable life? Most important, this enriching novel introduces Western readers to a unusual cultural experiment, and makes vivid a crucial chapter in Japanese assimilation into the West. ( Sept. )