Yuki Means Happiness by Alison Jean Lester
|Yuki Means Happiness by Alison Jean Lester|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Anna Hollingsworth|
|Summary: A story of a young American searching for a direction to her life in Japan, Yuki Means Happiness does not shine with its depiction of cultural differences or the feeling of otherness. It does offer a captivating narrative, though, and serves well as a light summer read.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 288||Date: July 2017|
|Publisher: John Murray|
|External links: Author's website|
High-tech and high-rise, kimonos, and big-eyed visuals – through a dynamic juxtaposition of the ultra-modern and the traditional, Japan has succeeded in branding itself both as an intriguing travel destination that does not cease to surprise, but at the same time defies being ever wholly full understood by outsiders. All of this has come to be encapsulated and reinforced in Sofia Coppola's cult classic Lost in Translation: the iconic still of Scarlett Johansson standing at the scramble crossing in Shibuya has come to represent Japan in pop culture as much as the more traditional cherry blossom imagery.
As for so many others, this was exactly the image I had in mind when I set off to do a study exchange in Tokyo. Young, female, always a bit lost – what Scarlett experienced on-screen definitely struck a chord with me, even if in an obviously romanticized way.
I picked up Yuki Means Happiness with those experiences in mind, looking to find another point of reflection for my time in Japan. The comparison is perhaps not quite fair, but the parallels are unavoidable between Alison Jean Lester's novel and Coppola's film. Lester's protagonist, Diana, like Coppola's Charlotte, is a twenty-something looking for direction both in life and love. A recently graduated nurse from a small town in the US, Diana is not entirely sure whether a nursing job is right for her, and, more pressingly, whether her recent boyfriend find, Porter, is quite The One. Conveniently to her general undecidedness, an opportunity presents itself: take up a nanny job in Japan. Diana packs her bags, moves to Japan, and takes adorable toddler Yuki under her wing. But there is more to the situation than nannying and culture shocks: as Yuki's family situation starts to unravel, Diana's loyalties are tested, and she is forced to reassess what is best for both Yuki and herself.
Unfortunately to anyone going for Yuki Means Happiness because of an interest in Japanese culture and experiences of otherness – myself included – the novel does not mean happiness. Diving into Diana's Japan is very much not about seeing the deep sea but rather scuba diving just scraping the surface. Lester offers eclectic episodes where the protagonist does all the clichés from struggling with a multi-function toilet to being confused about when to remove her shoes. These scenes have a forced feel to them, failing to attain the sharpness of the clever-cum-comic observations found in the likes of Lost in Translation. There is even the occasional hint of orientalism in Lester's narrative: the reader is left to ogle at The Other, differences being dismissed as exotic and not worth an attempt to understand them. Too often, the Japanese characters are products of their culture rather than individuals in the same way as their American peers are.
That said, where the novel stumbles and falls as a cultural description, it makes up in offering a page-turning narrative. As the story unravels, the noose tightens around the reader's neck as they are roped into finding out what lies beneath the surface. There are complex relationships, there are hidden desires, and there's abuse; together with this intrigue, the short chapters and not overly ornate writing make Yuki Means Happiness easy to dip into and to race through the pages.
Lester's novel may not be the most insightful or deepest of reads, but it's a great choice for a summer literary fling. Pack it into a picnic basket, take it onto the beach, or shelter with it from the inevitable rain with it – it is guaranteed to make the time fly by.
If this book appeals to you, then you might also like to try Lillian on Life by Alison Jean Lester. For a story of a Japanese man moving to New York, we can recommend Buddhaland Brooklyn by Richard C Morais.
You can read more book reviews or buy Yuki Means Happiness by Alison Jean Lester at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy Yuki Means Happiness by Alison Jean Lester at Amazon.com.
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