Japan Society of Fairfield County

Culture Watch, Society Watch (6)
by Dr. Ikuko Anjo Jassey

     It was about seven or eight years ago when I heard the author's name, Kyoko Mori, for the first time. The New York Times Review critiqued her book, Shizuko's Daughter, favorably enough to stimulate book readers' appetites. So, I bought the book. Shizuko's Daughter might be categorized into what Truman Capote once classified In Cold Blood a "non-fiction novel." It is biographical and yet fictional. Mori came to the United States right after her graduation from a junior college in Japan, running away from her trauma, her mother's suicide. She was twenty years old. When she was in her thirties, she started teaching a creative writing course at a small liberal college somewhere in or around Ohio. Several years after the novel was acclaimed, she transferred to Harvard University for a new teaching position.  What makes it possible?  When you read her acclaimed novel, you feel that she willingly deserted everything Japanese.  She has no desire to go back to Japan; she has no impetus to meet her father and stepmother; and she has no reason to maintain her own language and culture.  This psychological detachment from Japan, especially from her own language and culture itself presumably became a powerful source of her acquiring English, particularly in her writings.
     Four years ago, I had an opportunity to scan her book, a collection of her essays, in Japanese translation.  Her way of writing essays is no more Japanese at all.  Too straightforward in expression and too strong in tones for Japanese readers.  I do not know if its English version was published in this country.  However, as far as I read it in Japanese translation--I know that it is not an issue of translation, but of the way of her expressing her thoughts, this book did not impress me.  Perhaps, if she were not an established author, the collection of her essays would not be published.
     This reminds me of an anecdote recalled by Iris Murdoch.  She sent her manuscript to publishing companies under a different name unknown to anyone.  As a result, no companies showed interest in her manuscript.  When she disclosed her identity, however, all the publishing companies made a complete change in their attitude and were eager to publish it.  Murdock is candid and courageous.  This incident of rejection, thus, might happen to any author, regardless of how renowned he or she is.
     Contrary to Mori's case whose writing is deeply affected by American culture and values, whatever I write, my first language and culture does take control of how I think and how I organize it.  Included are my morphological, syntactical, and semantic hurdles in English.  Consequently, my writing tends to render a foreign tone or an exotic flavor.  Unlike Mori, I who immersed myself for 44 years in Japanese society and whose linguistic ability is no more than ordinary, I am fully aware that it is impossible for me to write like a native.
     Thus, without feeling apprehensive of a touch of foreignness in my writing, or perhaps rather considering it a charm, I write for my personal enjoyment.

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