Cynthia Kadohata’s first novel, The Floating World, is a straightforward, unsentimental look at a Japanese American family’s unusual passage along the back roads of 1950’s rural America, brought to life by the twelve-year-old protagonist’s eye for telling details. The novel was influential immediately upon being published in 1989, the same year of Amy Tan’s best-selling novel The Joy Luck Club. Both novels promised readers a fascinating look at the Asian American experience.
Teenage protagonist Livvie provides a rich picture of the quirkiness of her odd and mean grandmother. Through her remembrance of family stories, Livvie also indirectly provides the larger historical context of Japanese immigration to the United States and the issues faced by Japanese immigrants. Here, the reader quickly realizes that the cantankerous grandmother must have been a strong woman rebelling against equally strong societal conventions. The point is brought home by Livvie when the grandmother’s rough and even abusive exterior is contrasted with her proven deep love for her grandchildren.
With The Floating World, Kadohata effectively combines a road novel with a coming-of-age narrative. There are powerful, vivid images of life on the road; for example, a motel’s neon lights suddenly switch to no vacancy as its last room is rented out for the night. One of the most remarkable aspects of the novel is that Livvie appears to be most happy...
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