child of fortune & the danger of a single story

PicsArt_1410693993273Recently, I, for the gazillionth time, re-watched Chimamanda Ngozi’s Ted talk on the danger of a single story on Youtube. First of all, love her!! so damn eloquent and her literature gives me life! Secondly, she spews words of wisdom that make you restructure your way of thinking. Basically, the talk she gave focused on the misunderstandings that can stem from forming/drawing from stereotypes. The point is to evaluate your surroundings, study different views of the same subject and in the end draw your conclusions from the various observations. Just don’t look north and give your opinions on the subject. This can be applicable to people and situations too.

In a nutshell, if I was playing the word association game and someone said Japan, hello kitty,kimono, origami, ikebana,manga, would come tumbling out of me. That said, I remember mentioning something about Japanese literature/books in a previous post here. Norwegian wood is the first book I read by a Japanese writer. It was full of melancholic, haiku worthy, apassionato violin music characters and situations. and did I mention the emotional instability and suicidal inclinations. It was an interesting book but in my head, the Japanese were a sad lot,extra sensitive and just plain weird. Until I came across Yuko Tsushima’s Child of Fortune!

Yuko Tsushima is a Japanese woman writer as is plastered all over the book lest you start making assumptions. And before you judge the book by its author’s ethnicity, The introduction reads as belowPicsArt_1410690125928Well, I was stopped right in my judgmental tracks when I read that. My expectations of a suicidal female with mood swings and irrational outbursts were nipped right in their little buds!

As indicated, the main character Koko is somewhat of an enigma, to begin with, she is all over the place and she is what you would refer in ghetto terms as a “hot mess” and the reason is she is involved in three very messy relationships. One with the immature college sweetheart Hatanaka with whom he has a daughter Kayako. Secondly with Osada, who is Hatanaka’s friend and who acts as a go between for Koko and Hatanaka post divorce. Koko enjoys a friends with benefits type of relationship with Osada. Lastly, there is Doi, who despite being married has Koko as his side chick! It’s not even a love triangle, it’s a square people! a damn square!!! Oh no! it’s a pentagon!!! that’s if you add the relationship she had with her disabled brother,  who she adored and looked up to before his sudden death in his early teens.

Reason number two that makes her a hot mess is that Koko is not exactly the poster girl for motherhood, She puts her needs before her daughter Kayako. she would give up everything to be with Doi who is somehow emotionally unavailable. Kayako lives with her aunt, Koko’s sister Shoko who believes she can be a better parent to Kayako than Koko can which leads to a tug of war that ends up distancing the mother-daughter relationship further.

After losing Kayako, Koko develops a “pregnancy” which is all in her head, she develops the symptoms that would accompany a real pregnant woman the most prominent being weight gain which everyone notices. She believes Osada is responsible. Once she gets to the hospital and a scan is done, the doctors find no fetus and diagnose her with a case of pseudocyesis. She then has to break this news to Osada after having prepared him for fatherhood. How embarrassing, right?!

Osada then proceeds to organize an intervention with his friend Hatanaka for Koko. He invites her over for dinner at a restaurant without informing her of Hatanaka’s presence. They give her some half ass opinions about her life and she lets them know she won’t take their bullshit by swiftly walking out!

I like that the author portrayed Koko as a character with a strong personality, She might have been a hot mess but she owned it and took control of her own life, stuck to her guts even while her sister was busy telling her how to live her life. She manages well as a piano instructor and lives in her own apartment despite her sister’s constant nagging to move back into the family home. She lives life in her own terms. at the same time being human she cannot help but feel remorseful about severing her relationship with her daughter and makes the decision to salvage it. She may have contemplated suicide at some point but the need to keep living is greater.

In conclusion, It’s not all about kimono wearing, suicidal and emotional Japanese women. This book has given me a different perspective to Japan. And maybe Koko, like most of us, needs Dr. Phil in her life or better yet Allah/Jesus/Buddha.

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