A young mother fights impossible odds to be reunited with her child in this acutely insightful first novel about an intercultural marriage gone terribly wrong.
Jill Parker is an American painter living in Japan. Far from the trendy gaijin neighborhoods of downtown Tokyo, she’s settled in a remote seaside village where she makes ends meet as a bar hostess. Her world appears to open when she meets Yusuke, a savvy and sensitive art gallery owner who believes in her talent. But their love affair, and subsequent marriage, is doomed to a life of domestic hell, for Yusuke is the chonan, the eldest son, who assumes the role of rigid patriarch in his traditional family while Jill’s duty is that of a servile Japanese wife. A daily battle of wills ensues as Jill resists instruction in the proper womanly arts. Even the long-anticipated birth of a son, Kei, fails to unite them. Divorce is the only way out, but in Japan a foreigner has no rights to custody, and Jill must choose between freedom and abandoning her child.
Told with tenderness, humor, and an insider’s knowledge of contemporary Japan, Losing Kei is the debut novel of an exceptional expatriate voice.
Suzanne Kamata's work has appeared in over one hundred publications. She is the editor of The Broken Bridge: Fiction from Expatriates in Literary Japan and a forthcoming anthology from Beacon Press on parenting children with disabilities. A five-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize, she has twice won the Nippon Airways/Wingspan Fiction Contest.
Pushcart Prize nominee Kamata follows an American woman out of her depth in Japan in this thin debut novel. Young South Carolina painter Jill Parker flees to Japan after a breakup in the late '80s, hoping to pursue the life and work of Blondelle Malone, a late 19th-century South Carolina artist who had also ventured to Japan for inspiration. After a stint in Tokyo, and knowing some Japanese, Jill ensconces herself in comfortable anonymity on the island of Shikoku, where there are few foreigners, save the surfer Eric, who gets her a job as a hostess at the seedy Cha Cha Club. At a gallery opening, Jill meets gallery owner Yusuke Yamashiro; he offers her a show and they soon marry. Before they do, the demands of a traditional Japanese marriage are clear to Jill, who has lived in Japan long enough to have her eyes wide open. After living with icy Yusuke and his critical mother, and giving birth to a boy, Kei, Jill ceases to paint and finds her sense of self dissolving. She plans her divorce and attempts to flee the country with her son, but is thwarted and threatened by Yusuke. In alternating chapters, set in the late '80s and late '90s, Jill spies on Kei, spiraling into self-pity and alcohol abuse, yet it's hard to feel sympathy for her self-perpetuated plight. Vivid atmosphere and characterization make one wish for a tighter plot.