Tag Archives: Japan

He’s a Runner

shoe dog amazon

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike – Phil Knight (Scribner, $29.00, 386 pages)

“In 1962 I told myself: Let everyone else call your idea crazy… just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where ‘there’ is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop.”

Phil Knight’s memoir is a wildly entertaining look at the founding – a difficult one, to be sure – of the world’s most successful athletic company. As Knight makes clear, the path forward was never easy. He began by cooperating with the Onitsuka Company of Japan (now Asics) to sell its shoes on the west coast of the United States; and, he eventually went to war with the company.

Shoe Dog shows us the value of grit, as Knight and his early partners were often knocked down but never out. He also fully acknowledges the many instances in which luck, pure luck, was on his side.

bill bowerman

pre-lives

This is not just Knight’s personal and professional tale, it is also the story of two major figures of the early days of the running movement: Coach Bill Bowerman of Oregon – inventor of the waffle sole, and Steve “Pre” Prefontaine. Go Pre! If Knight was the mind of Nike, these legends constituted its heart and its soul.

“God, how I wish I could relive the whole thing.”

shoe dog back cover

Oddly, this account appears to have been largely written back in 2007. Very late in the telling, Knight refers to Nike’s sales “last year,” in 2006. No matter, this is an inspirational work that’s well worth reading.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was published on April 26, 2016.

An excerpt from Shoe Dog can be found in the latest issue of Runner’s World magazine accompanied by this summary statement: “To Nike’s creator, Steve Prefontaine was much more than a talented runner. He was an inspiration for how the fledgling company would do, well, everything.”

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Homeward Bound

How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway (Berkley Trade, $15.00, 352 pages)

dilloway housewife

“The person I used to be could have only made one choice; the grown up (me) might have made a different one.   That was how life was.   You only figured out the right thing after you were too old.”

This is a finely told story of two persons and two cultures.   It may well appeal to those who loved Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford or The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz.   The many fans of Lisa See are also likely to be drawn to it.

This is, first, the story of Shoko, a young woman in Japan at the end of World War II who marries an American G.I. – one of the many occupiers of her island nation – and then moves with him to San Diego.   In the USA she finds great prosperity, but also some loneliness accompanied by discrimination.   Her transformation is assisted by a guidebook, printed in Japanese and English, labeled How to Be an American Housewife.

The character of Shoko is based on the author’s mother, Suiko O’Brien, who told Dilloway that “her life would make a great book.”   It does, and Shoko relied on a book that her American husband had given to her called The American Way of Housekeeping.

The second story is the tale of Shoko’s southern California-raised daughter, Sue, a character who might be reflective of some of the author’s own experiences growing up.   Sue is a divorced mother who perhaps does not properly appreciate her own mother until Shoko begin to experience serious health problems.   Shoko understands that her time on earth may be short and she wants nothing more than to visit her estranged brother Taro in a village in Japan, one not too far from Nagasaki.

As children Taro and Shoko were told that they shared the blood of the Emperor’s royal family.   When Shoko, attempting to live on her own as a young woman, begins to spend time with a lower-caste man, Taro sees this as bringing shame upon their family.   He vows to never forgive her, and Taro also hates the Americans who bombed his country; thus, Shoko’s marriage to an American (a”Charlie”) is another sign of Shoko’s betrayal to family and country.

Once its determined that the elderly Shoko needs a life-saving heart operation, she is set on convincing Sue to visit Japan in her stead.   She wants Sue to find Taro and deliver to him a request and a message.   This may be the final thing that Shoko asks of her daughter and Sue elects to honor her mother’s wishes.

One one level this is about persons of one culture trying to find acceptance and peace in another one, one that is initially alien (“San Diego had become a foreign nation…”).   This is true of a Japanese woman suddenly transported to the U.S. and of her daughter who, several decades later, finds herself in older parts of Japan.   Shoko eventually finds the peace to state, “I became an American…”   Sue makes a transformational journey to the Land of the Rising Sun with her own daughter and she finds that she’s “homesick” for a place she’s never been to before.

On a second level, this is about the interest and spice that’s added to life when one accepts cultures, and the habits, traditions and foods of “the others.”   In the end, the differences between us add to our experiences rather than subtract from them.   Dilloway’s story is a much-needed tribute to multiculturalism.   It is a telling that is an extremely effective one precisely because it includes examples of the sad destruction brought about by hating and fearing those who are different from us.

And finally, this is a tale of forgiveness.   It is one thing for Taro to be asked to forget the mistakes he and his sister made while they were young; it may be another to ask him to forgive a nation whose planes shot at him and dropped bombs on his village during the 1940s.   Yet, because Shoko married an American serviceman the issues become joined in his mind and heart.

The best scene in How to Become an American Housewife is the one in which Sue’s Japanese relatives take her to visit the Peace Park in Nagasaki, ground zero for the dropping of the second atomic bomb.   When the bomb exploded over Nagasaki, Taro and Shoko were close enough in the nearby village to see the lights from the explosion and hear the sound.   As Sue walks through the park, she comes to understand the horror of war, the terror of how it ended, and the fact that nothing can change the past.

Dilloway’s characters come to understand, as we all must, that the pain of yesterday is no reason to destroy the present.   This debut novel is an impressive tribute to one woman, a mother, who lived a true and large life.   It is also a tribute to the best characters of people in two very different countries who, separately yet together, seek to find comfort in the noisy turbulence of life.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  

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Coming Up Next…

A review of How to Be an American Housewife: A Novel by Margaret Dilloway.

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Homeward Bound

How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway (Putnam, August 5, 2010)

“The person I used to be could have only made one choice; the grown up (me) might have made a different one.   That was how life was.   You only figured out the right thing after you were old.”

This is a finely told story of two persons and two cultures.   It may well appeal to those who loved Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford or The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz.   The many fans of Lisa See are also likely to be drawn to it.

This is first, the story of Shoko, a young woman in Japan at the end of World War II who marries an American G.I. – one of the many occupiers of her island nation – and then moves with him to San Diego.   In the USA she finds great prosperity, but also some loneliness accompanied by discrimination.   Her transformation is assisted by a guidebook, printed in Japanese and English, labeled How to Be an American Housewife.

The character of Shoko is based on the author’s mother, Suiko O’Brien, who told Dilloway that “her life would make a great book.”   It does, and Suiko relied on a book that her American husband had given to her called The American Way of Housekeeping.

The second story is the tale of Shoko’s southern-California raised daughter, Sue, a character who might be reflective of some of the author’s own experiences growing up.   Sue is a divorced mother who perhaps does not properly appreciate her own mother until Shoko begins to experience serious health issues.   Shoko understands that her time on earth may be short and she wants nothing more than to visit her estranged brother Taro in a village in Japan, one not too far from Nagasaki.

As children Taro and Shoko were told that they shared the blood of the Emperor’s royal family.   When Shoko, attempting to live on her own as a young woman, begins to spend time with a lower-caste man, Taro sees this as bringing shame upon their family.   He vows to never forgive her, and Taro also hates the Americans who bombed his country; thus, Shoko’s marriage to an American (a “Charlie”) is another sign of Shoko’s betrayal to family and country.

Once its determined that the elderly Shoko needs a life-saving heart operation, she is set on convincing Sue to visit Japan in her stead.   She wants Sue to find Taro and deliver to him a request and a message.   This may be the final thing that Shoko asks of her daughter and Sue elects to honor her mother’s wishes.

On one level this is about persons of one culture trying to find acceptance and peace in another one, one that is initially alien (“San Diego had become a foreign nation…”).   This is true of a Japanese woman suddenly transported to the U.S. and of her daughter who, several decades later, finds herself in older parts of Japan.   Shoko eventually finds the peace to state, “I became an American…”   Sue makes a transformational journey to the Land of the Rising Sun with her own daughter and finds that she’s “homesick” for a place she’s never been to before.

On a second level, this is about the interest and spice that’s added to life when one accepts cultures, and the habits, traditions and foods of “the others.”   In the end, the differences between us add to our experiences rather than subtract from them.   Dilloway’s story is a much-needed tribute to multiculturalism.   It is a telling that is an extremely effective one precisely because it includes examples of the sad destruction brought about by hating and fearing those who are different from us.

And finally, this is a tale of forgiveness.   It is one thing for Taro to be asked to forget the mistakes he and his sister made while they were young; it may be another to ask him to forgive a nation whose planes shot at him and dropped bombs on his village during the 1940s.   Yet, because Shoko married an American serviceman the issues become joined in his mind and heart.

The best scene in How to Become an American Housewife is the one in which Sue’s Japanese relatives take her to visit the Peace Park in Nagasaki, ground zero for the dropping of the second atomic bomb.   When the bomb exploded over Nagasaki, Taro and Shoko were close enough in their nearby village to see the lights from the explosion and hear the sound.   As Sue walks through the park, she comes to understand the horror of war, the terror of how it ended, and the fact that nothing can change the past.

Dilloway’s characters come to understand, as we all must, that the pain of yesterday is no reason to destroy the present.   This debut novel is an impressive tribute to one woman, a mother, who lived a true and large life.   It is also a tribute to the best characteristics of people in two very different countries who, separately yet together, seek to find comfort within the noisy turbulence of life.

Well recommended.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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When We Were Orphans

When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

Having enjoyed other novels by Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day, Never Let Me Go), when I was offered the chance to borrow a copy of When We Were Orphans – written in 2000 – I decided to accept.   This is an agreeable read which, although I found it slow to start with, made me think about childhood loss and how memory can play tricks.

The protagonist is Christopher Banks, born in Shanghai to a British couple early in the twentieth century.   There he led the happy sheltered life of an expatriate of the time until the mysterious disappearance of his parents.   The story is narrated by Christopher as now some twenty years later he is living in London, having been sent to England after becoming an orphan.   He comes across as a bumbling tragic character and it is difficult to imagine him as the well-respected detective he has become.

Since he was orphaned at the age of nine, Christopher has been haunted by the unresolved case of his parents’ disappearance, which he has always believed was a kidnapping.   Now as a detective he’s more determined than ever to return to Shanghai to solve the case; this despite the fact that the city is under attack by the Japanese army.   His memories of the city and the difficulties he encounters – especially in attempting to trust the people around him – make this latter part of the novel far more atmospheric than the earlier stages.

By the end, I was thoroughly drawn in to this story that had built slowly but which the author managed to bring to a convincing (and satisfying) conclusion.

This review was written by LindyLouMac and is reprinted with her permission.   She is an expatriate who lives in Italy with her husband.   Read more of her informative reviews at http://lindyloumacbookreviews.blogspot.com/ .

 

 

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We’re giving away an amazing book!

Double Take: A Memoir is an amazing new book from Kevin Michael Connolly; it’s 5-star rated at Amazon.   We will post our own review of this inspiring book in the near future, but in the interim you can win one of three copies that we have to give away!   Yes, we have 3 new, hardbound, copies of Double Take to give away courtesy of SallyAnne McCartin and Associates and HarperStudio.

Here is a synopsis of the book:

Kevin Michael Connolly is a 23-year-old who has seen the world in a way most of us never will.   Whether swarmed by Japanese tourists at Epcot Center as a child or holding court at the X Games on his mono-ski as a teenager, Kevin has been an object of curiousity since the day he was born without legs.   Growing up in rural Montana, he was raised like any other kid (except, that is, for his father’s MacGyver-like contraptions such as the “butt boot”).   As a college student, Kevin traveled to 17 countries on his skateboard and, in an attempt to capture the stares of others, he took more than 30,000 photographs of people staring at him.   In this dazzling memoir, Connolly casts the lens inward to explore how we view ourselves and what it is to truly see another person.   We also get to know his quirky and unflappable parents and his spunky girlfriend.   From the home of his family in Helena, Montana to the streets of Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur, Connolly’s remarkable journey will change the way you look at others, and the way you see yourself.

Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants said of Connolly’s book, “Kevin Connolly has used an unusual physical circumstance to create a gripping work of art.   This deeply affecting memoir will place him in the company of Jeanette Walls and Augusten Burroughs.”

And a reader, Cathy Yetter, said:  “I read the book straight through, only stopping to sleep and snack.   Kevin Connolly’s book ‘Double Take’ gave me the feeling of sitting by a campfire with intimate friends just back from distant parts unknown, listening to their adventure tales that you know are true but hard to believe none the less.”

Here are the simple rules for entering this book giveway contest.   To enter the contest once, just send an e-mail to josephsreviews@gmail.com .   For a second entry, you just need to indicate who has been your inspiration in life, and why.   That’s it.   Only persons who live in the United States are eligible and you should be able to supply a residential (street) address rather than a P.O. Box for delivery.   Prior contest winners at this site are again eligible.   This contest will close to entries at midnight Pacific Standard Time on Friday, January 8, 2010.  

Munchy the Norwegian Forest Cat – our contest administrator – will pick the names of the three winners out of a large plastic container on January 9th, and we hope and expect to announce the winners on this site on Sunday, January 10, 2010.  

Good luck and good reading!

 

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Something Completely Different…

Commoner 5Sometimes we need a change from the popular fiction novels set in the U.S.   One book that offers a definite change of time and scenery is the forthcoming Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (author of The Time Traveler’s Wife), set in London.   Another is The Commoner, a novel recently released in trade paperback form.   This story takes us to post World War II Japan and moves us through a period of more than 55 years.   The author, John Burnham Schwartz, knows a lot about what he writes as he lived in Japan as a younger man; something he wrote about in his earlier novel Bicycle Days.

Schwartz does a fine job of creating a different world, emphasizing the unique features of Asian culture such as humility, respect, duty and class differences.   The latter comes into play as this is the tale of a young woman – a commoner – who is selected to marry the Crown Prince of Japan.   Initially, the proposal of marriage is rejected but Haruko Endo is compelled by duty to family and country to accept the offer from a future monarch.

It is very clear that Haruko will have difficulties once she enters the Imperial Palace grounds and joins the Royal Family.   One of the significant issues facing her is the fact that she was not the choice of the Empress, a domineering woman who usually gets her way.   Schwartz is at his best in creating the characters of the two families, both royal and common.   As a former gaijin, he does an excellent job of describing the very different world that is Japan, from its streets to its food to its birds, plants and flowers.   He even describes smells that he links with this different country.

The story flows freely for 351 pages and is quite a satisfying one for the reader.   But there are a few issues.   First, Schwartz’s writing is generally fluid but every now and then a rough spot appears.   For example, “The (fertility) test, in short said that one could; to be followed by the wedding, which declared that one must.”   Perhaps this would read better in Japanese; it comes across as severely awkward in English.

Secondly, there appear to be some problems in the editing down of the tale.   We learn that the Empress who precedes Haruko lives for a hundred years until she dies a natural death, and yet twice we see references to her “assassin.”   No assassination attempt is included in the story, and the reader has to wonder if and when it was deleted.

Finally, this is one of those unfortunate cases where the entire story is too well summarized on the rear book cover.   If you purchase this book, avoid reading the notes on the cover or everything will be given away too soon.  

All in all, I much enjoyed this unique trip to the Land of the Rising Sun as written by the Japanese-speaking and English-writing Schwartz.   A good read!

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