Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Losing Kei by Suzanne Kamata

How do you choose between your child and freedom from an overbearing mother-in-law and a husband who's not what you'd expected? In a country where foreigners have no custody rights following a divorce, how do you get your child back? Suzanne Kamata raises these questions in Losing Kei, as Jill Parker comes to terms with the consequences of her decision.

Jill has dreams of becoming a wildlife photographer and opening an art gallery in Africa, but a failed relationship prompts her to reconsider and leave the States for Japan instead. She tells everyone she wants to be another Blondelle Malone, a female painter from her hometown in South Carolina. In Japan, Jill doesn't know anyone, but she quickly makes friends with another American, Eric, a surfer she meets on the beach. Eric helps her get a job as a hostess at the Cha Cha Club working for Mama Morita, who expects Jill and the other girls to entertain the male patrons and ensure a steady flow of drink.

Mama Morita hires Jill to paint a mural in the club, beginning her art career in Japan, and she eventually meets Yusuke Yamashiro at a gallery opening. They marry, and Jill moves in with his family. There the pressures of learning to be the traditional Japanese wife and following a new set of customs become stifling. Jill endures her mother-in-law's lessons, but once she gives birth to Kei, her life becomes unbearable. She isn't happy, she can't live up to her new family's expectations, and she decides divorce is the only answer.

The narrative switches from the late 1980s--from her relationship with her first love, Philip, through her marriage to Yusuke--to the late 1990s after their divorce. When the book opens, Jill already has lost Kei, and her lawyer has told her that divorces are not appealed and that she and her son will be separated for good. Kamata does an excellent job moving back and forth, revealing Jill's past in bits and pieces peppered with the pain of a mother not able to hold her child or even sit in the same room with him.

Jill is an interesting, flawed character. As a mom, I find it hard to believe that someone would make a choice that causes them to lose their child--especially when they are so in love with the child. There may be many women willing to endure a difficult marriage for the sake of the children, but Kamata shows that Jill's choices were equally painful, and she was sacrificing herself either way.

Jill's story instantly drew me in, but I also enjoyed Losing Kei because Kamata does a wonderful job showing what it's like for an outsider to try to fit into a culture completely different from their own. And the fact that Kamata herself is an American living in Japan lends a great deal of authenticity to the story.

Losing Kei also was reviewed by:

Booking Mama
Reading Room

**After I finished Losing Kei, I wanted to know more about the story and the woman who wrote it. I had the pleasure of interviewing Suzanne Kamata, so if you'd like to know more about her experiences, Japanese custody laws, and other interesting tidbits, please come back to Diary of an Eccentric tomorrow. I'll also tell you how you can win a signed copy of Losing Kei!**

Disclosure:  I borrowed Losing Kei from the library.


Serena said...

This book sounded so intriguing when you told me about it the first time. I can't wait to see your interview.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great book. Thanks for the review.

Anna said...

Serena: I think you'll really enjoy the interview! I also think you should read the book. I'd love to know what you think. We could have another lunchtime book discussion! ;)

Bermudaonion: Thanks! It's hard to say you enjoy a book when the subject is so sad, but it was a great read!

Jeannie said...

I will be definitely checking back. Thank you, Anna.

P.S. I was very happy when I easily recognized the Kanji on the cover of the book. "Ko"- meaning child. :D

Darlene said...

Great review Anna. The book sounds fascinating. I'll be sure to pop in for the interview.

Alyce said...

I had no idea that Japanese custody laws were any different than in the US. How's that for ignorance? I look forward to reading the interview.

Susan said...

This sounds really interesting. Can't wait to read your interview with the author.

Amy said...

This sounds fantastic! I'm really looking forward to your interview.

Sandra said...

I enjoy Japanese literature or any well-written fiction set in Japan so this sounds like it's right up my alley. There are so many things done very differently in Japan. It's fascinating. I will return, no pun intended.

Anna said...

Jeannie: Thanks for letting me know about the Kanji! Very interesting!

Dar: Thanks! "See" you then! :)

Alyce: I had no idea either until I read this book!

Susan & Amy: Thanks! I really enjoyed reading Suzanne's answers to my questions, and I hope you all will, too!

Sandra: I've been a fan of Asian literature since I took World Lit. and Asian American Lit. in college. I'm always looking for contemporary fiction set in Japan, and I wasn't disappointed with this one!

Anonymous said...

OK, I've come full circle! Suzanne Kamata was the editor (and a contributor) for the first LibraryThing book I reviewed, a collection (fiction, non-fiction, memoir, poetry) about raising a child with special needs. The title is *Love You to Pieces*.

Anyway, I had no idea that Suzanne has written a novel. I'll definitely be checking back for your interview and a chance to win a copy of *Losing Kei*!

Marie Cloutier said...

sounds like a very thought-provoking read :-)

Corinne said...

Wow - this one sounds fascinating and emotional. I"m looking forward to tomorrow's post ;)

Bookfool said...

Sounds terrific. I'll be back for the interview.

Anonymous said...

Anna, I've never heard of this but it looks great. You read the best books!

When I read your review, I thought of the movie, Not Without My Daughter starring Sally Field. Different country, different circumstances, but somehow similar.

Ruth Schaller said...

Good morning Anna~~

I was dropping by to let you know that I nominated your blog for the I Love Your Blog Award!!!

Hop on over to www.ruthiesbookreviews.blogspot.com
and check out the post!!

Anonymous said...

Hi, this is my second entry for the contest.

I would love to read this book because you make it sound so great. haha. And also because I want to learn more about the Japanese culture and identity which seems to be in this novel. I find it interesting that the writer is an American in Japan and has such an interest in the country.

Please enter me in the contest. Thanks.

- Carmen T

Anna said...

Dawn: That's really cool! I love those kinds of little discoveries!

Marie: It really does get you thinking. She raises a lot of questions about cultural differences and being a wife and a mom. I think a book club would have a lot to discuss if they read this book.

Corinne: It was very emotional. As a mom, I could completely feel Jill's pain.

Bookfool: I can't recommend this book enough. And after reading Suzanne's answers to my questions, I wanted to go read it again.

Shana: I've never seen that movie, but I sort of know what it's about. I see some similarities. I've been lucky to have picked up so many good books this year!

Ruth: Thanks so much! I will definitely stop by your blog!!

Carmen: Thanks! ;) I really think the fact that Suzanne speaks from experience and her understanding of the Japanese culture makes the book a great read!

Wendi said...

What a wonderful review! I've never considered what custody concerns would be in another country - I just assumed they would be similar to what we have here.

I loved the interview you did as well!

Thanks ~ Wendi

tanabata said...

I've had this on my wishlist for a while but your review is making me want to move it up the list.
I'm always interested in reading about Japanese culture and society. The family structure is so different here. I was surprised when I first heard about child custody after divorce a few years ago when then Prime Minister Koizumi was in office. If you haven't already heard of it, you might like to read this article about the custody situation of Koizumi's sons. So it's not just foreigner's that don't have rights after divorce. It's a result of Japan's old feudal system of the 'ie' or family group which is still enforced. Still very sad, though.

Anonymous said...

One more book that I would like to read! Hope I win it in your giveaway!


Anna said...

Wendi B.: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the review. It seems everyone is fascinated by the difference in the custody laws. I wonder what the Japanese think about the laws in our country?

Tanabata: Thanks for the article link. I will have to check it out!

Guatami: Good luck!

Literary Feline said...

What an difficult sacrifice that must have been for her! I imagine it wouldn't be very easy. This book sounds really good. Thank you for the wonderful review.

Michele said...

Wow, this sounds like a powerful book. Your review is nicely written - I'm looking forward to reading the book!

Ronnica said...

This book sounds interesting. I took a class on post-WWII Civil War and found the culture and government fascinating.

Anna said...

Literary Feline: So glad you enjoyed the review. The book is full of a lot of pain all stemming from that choice. I wouldn't have been able to live with losing my child.

Michele: Thanks! I hope you get a chance to read the book, and I'd love to know what you think about it.

Ronnica: That sounds like a very interesting class!

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

Dangit! I just realized I'm too late for the giveaway (still catching up from when I was out of town). This sounds like a really touching book--but also an emotional one. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention!

Anna said...

Trish: So sorry you missed the giveaway! I've missed a bunch of stuff, too. I was sick last week, and now I'm playing catch up with everything!