Sunday, April 4, 2010

Review: If you Follow Me by Malena Watrous

Every ending is written in its beginning, but you can't see it until you look back.

I've been looking forward to If You Follow Me for awhile, as I do most books that deal with Japan. I never know what I'll get though, and I'm pleased to say I got a really excellent read in If You Follow Me.

If You Follow Me is the story of Marina who joins the JET Program (a kind of teacher fellowship program for teaching English in Japan) and gets assigned to a very rural area. She's only going to Japan because her girlfriend Carolyn wants to go and Marina doesn't want to be left behind. Carolyn has been a kind of life raft for her in dealing with the suicide of her father and Marina can't imagine what else she would have done after graduating from college.

It isn't as easy to fit in Japan as they might expect, though. First, they decide to hide the fact that they are romantically involved. Secondly, they are among the few foreigners in their area and there are a lot of unspoken rules in Japanese society that they must adapt to.

I have to give kudos to Watrous for capturing the American in Japan experience very well. I am so thankful I lived in Tokyo where we only loosely abided by the gomi (trash) rules (well we did our best) and they weren't that complicated. But using the complicated gomi rules was a great way to illustrate Marina's adaptation to life in Japan, her process of casting off her older self and embracing her new life. I felt so much of the book was authentic, though, from Marina's frustration with her repetitive conversations about weather and all of the language used. I have to admit to having pangs of longing for Japan even though the picture painted of Japan isn't all that rosy.

I loved the Japanese characters in the book, especially Miyoshi-sensei but also many of the others who felt very real. Actually, I felt all of the characters were true to life and made the book rich. But I loved Miyoshi-sensei and his wisdom and Japanese way of looking at things.

It's not like anything really big and huge happens in the book, but I found myself unwilling to put it down. I felt great affection for the characters, eagerness for Marina to come to a greater peace in her life, and I even laughed sometimes. I was also often touched by the wisdom and truth revealed in the story and have gone back many times to mull over some of my favorite passages in my mind. Like these:

"All of the best songs are sad," I say.
"It's true, he agrees. "Why is this?"
"I think it's because they help us feel things that are hard to feel. It's like you wrote in one of your letters, if you say to someone, 'I'm lonely,' you just sound needy, but if you sing it, you turn it into something beautiful, and you give them a way to share the experience. Then you become less lonely."

Hiro and I walk around the gallery, moving from picture to picture in silence. When I finally ask what he thinks of the art, he says, "Eh...I only came for you. I don't really like art.
"What do you mean?" I say, "How can you not like art?"
"I prefer music," he says.
"That's ridiculous," I say. "You don't have to pick. You can like both."
"You're wrong. There is not enough time....You do have to pick"

If You Follow Me is a beautiful and true story about growing up and starting a new life and finding yourself in a new place.

Rating: 4.5/5
Things You Might Want to Know: There's a fair bit of sex in the book.
Source of Book: Received for Blog Talk Radio show with author from Book Club Girl
Publisher: Haper Perennial


Post a Comment

Thank you for taking the time to comment! I appreciate hearing your thoughts.