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I was truly impressed by this book. The plot is simple, two American girls with ample emotional baggage set out to teach English in Japan. That they are lovers in a new relationship complicates things as they find themselves in a remote village in Japan that has a mind bending structure for trash sorting and disposal. Here not only do they discover each other , but are able to free themselves of the demons from the past that are holding them back. Here they also find new relationships and discover the true meaning of love and loss. Malena Watrous has done a wonderful job of weaving in the Japanese culture and language without once being preachy or having it sound like an exposition. And she writes about the idiosyncrasies of the culture and the characters without coming off as cocky or derogatory. I particularly appreciated that each chapter started with a japanese word that lead us through the chapter. I had no idea till I read the anglification of Japanese words till I read this lovely book.
I really liked how close the author gets into her character's thinking about her life as she experiences it, and that it's both so intimate but also often funny. And all mixed with the strangeness, to her of Japan and its culture and language.
A great story of self discovery and traveling to a far away land. Malena has a deft hand at translating the nuances of Japanese culture, and her characters' experience there. It is clever, funny and poignant. A very good book.
In IF YOU FOLLOW ME, Watrous writes about people we all know; hers is a story of self discovery in which the reader shares. In many outsider novels, there is the 'other' and then there is the 'known.' In FOLLOW, there is no 'other.'
Though Watrous had me laughing so hard I dropped my book on several occasions, it was often a bittersweet kind of laughter - not "ha, ha, ha." Bittersweet because the writing is so honest. The character of the Japanese supervisor and English teacher is one of my favorite characters in all of literature. His "Japlish" letters are unconventional to say the least, but his affection for his students and for Marina in particular made me love him all the more. You'll meet other Japanese characters in FOLLOW that will seem more familiar than foreign - in particular a first grade boy whose relationship with his autistic brother is complicated but oh so human.
I ordered this book from Amazon this week and finished it almost overnight. I could not attend to anything else. It's that kind of story. Read it. You won't regret it.
If You Follow Me's hilarious and intelligent heroine, Marina, decides to teach English in Japan soon after graduating college, hoping to escape the pain and grief of her father's recent suicide. She finds herself not in cosmopolitan Tokyo or beautiful Kyoto, but in working-class Shika, a town economically dependent on its alarmingly out-of-date nuclear power plant and filled with neighbors and colleagues who monitor her clumsy attempts to adapt to local custom. Living in a tiny house with her cat and her increasingly distant girlfriend, Marina struggles both to mourn her losses and to connect meaningfully with her new community.
The world Watrous creates feels so real that you can easily see yourself in Marina's shoes, dealing with a beat-up car, sneakily disposing of a refrigerator, counseling a student in crisis. Watrous portrays a series of unique and specific characters with empathy, complexity and humor: the teacher struggling with an autistic son at home, the dentist who stretches out his treatments in order to practice English with his patients, and most of all, the proper, sensitive supervisor with whom she may be falling in love. The result is a highly original and moving account of coming of age away from home. Marina's point of view is ironic but never cynical, sympathetic but never sentimental, linguistically clever but never obscure, and above all, self-deprecating and observant on every page. I can't recommend this book highly enough.