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When Alec Stern arrives in Japan, he discovers a land of opportunity. For only in Tokyo could an impressionable young man fresh out of college find, in one stroke, a new job, a new family, and a society that lavishes attention on Japanese-speaking gaijin. Yet, even as Alec claims a place in this new world, he is haunted by memories of the one he left behind—a world once infinitely secure but which disintegrated with the breakup of his parents' marriage.
In this incandescently observed novel, John Burnham Schwartz introduces readers to one of the most appealing protagonists in contemporary fiction while enchanting them with the keenness of his eye and the aptness of his voice. Through its exquisitely rendered scenes—a fishing trip of Zen-like serenity; a night at a sex club where giggling businessmen dive into the action—and vividly imagined characters—the laughing mother who taught Alec to ride a bicycle; the beautiful sad Japanese woman who teaches him how to love—Bicycle Days surprises, moves, and enlightens us as very few books do.
Fresh out of Yale, Alec Stern spends a summer working in an American computer company's Tokyo offices. Schwartz, a 23-year-old Harvard grad, vividly sets the scene of his promising if overly self-absorbed debut novel. Alec's romance with a 33-year-old Japanese woman, Kawashima, is the highlight of his stay. Through flashbacks to his boyhood in New York City, we learn that he came to the Orient partly to wipe the slate clean, to escape memories of his parents' divorce and his bitter fights with his older brother Mark. But Mark's unexpected appearance in Tokyo, combined with the death of Kawashima's aged grandfather, jolt Alec out of his Shangri-La. Schwartz has a good ear for the humorous misunderstandings and cultural differences that often arise in Japanese-American interactions. Unfolding in 40 vignettes sketched in a lean, almost mimimalist style, the diary-like narrative evokes a medley of sights and experiences with which Western readers can readily identify--a view of Mount Fuji, pachinko (pinball) parlors, the tea ceremony, coping with subways, Japanese family customs, shopping in department stores and fish markets.