The Floating World is Kadohata’s remarkable first novel that was greeted with great critical acclaim and found a substantial readership. Many of the individual chapters are based on short stories Kadohata had published in The New Yorker, among others. This gives the novel its episodic flair that perfectly reflects the prevailing theme of an insubstantial, transient world only loosely connected to the family of the protagonist who traverses it almost like in a dream.
The Floating World is told from the perspective of Olivia Ann, a young Japanese American woman who is twelve at the beginning of the novel. She is traveling along the West Coast with her family, three generations contained in one of the big cars put out by Detroit in the early 1950’s. She sits in the back with her three brothers, while her mother and stepfather each inhabit a world of their own even though they are sitting up front in physical proximity. Olivia Ann’s grandmother, always referred to by her most formal Japanese name of Obasan, is both an anchor and a point of vexation for her grandchildren. While Obasan smokes, has a biting tongue, and pinches or boxes the ears of the misbehaving children, she is also ready to defend them with her life when outsiders appear threatening.
The outside world of rural, small-town America with its motels, gas stations, fast-food diners, and endless highways appears indeed to float by the family traveling through it. There is a poignant irony in the book’s title, for as Olivia explains, The...
(The entire section is 635 words.)