cover image White Elephant

White Elephant

Mako Idemitsu, trans. from the Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter. Chin Music, $15 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-63405-958-9

In one of Idemitsu’s novel’s most memorable moments, Hiroko, a Japanese artist living in New York City, wrestles with self-doubt after her father revokes financial support, citing her lack of success. Unable to shake off the accusations of failure, Hiroko is soon “consumed with self-reproach over having let down the father she adored.” This struggle, both personal and creative, might have been compelling, particularly because Hiroko is of the generation of Japanese children who survived WWII and then had to make sense of the world in its aftermath. Hiroko also spends years sleeping with her youngest sister’s husband, Paul, sabotaging Hiroko’s relationship with the only family she had in the U.S. Unfortunately, the writing itself is stilted, and it’s difficult to tell what’s awkward because of the translation and what’s simply awkward. For instance, at one point Sakiko, Hiroko’s younger sister, is frustrated when Hiroko calls her, unable to understand the source of Hiroko’s bitterness: “What ailed Hiroko anyway?” Another time, when Hiroko has taken a sleeping pill after waiting up for Paul to visit, she wakes up to find that though he’s in her bed, he’s no longer interested: “The Hiroko of her head felt contempt for the Hiroko thus rejected.” The prose follows a strict “tell, don’t show” formula, which might have even been an interesting experiment were the writing itself not so diffuse. Though the experiences are rich, the novel remains unwieldy. (Oct.)