One Hundred and One Ways

In One Hundred and One Ways, Mako Yoshikawa tells the story of a young Japanese woman, Yukiko, who is trying to come to terms with the loss of the great love of her life. It is a painful process, confused by the haunting presence of the ghost of her past love, Phillip, and the very real company of her seemingly perfect, and touchingly patient, new boyfriend Eric. Yukiko copes, in part, by preparing questions to ask of her grandmother, a former geisha and recently widowed wife, who is scheduled to come to America and meet her, and by trying to learn from the experience of her austere, but loving mother.

The resulting narrative is reminiscent of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club (1989), in that the stories of the three women interweave seamlessly, sometimes revealing the sorrows and triumphs of Yukiko's grandmother as she pursues her life as a geisha and wife of a prominent man, sometimes focusing on Yukiko's mother and her decision to abandon her advantages in Japan to come to America with the man she loved, and sometimes reflecting on Yukiko herself and her struggle to survive a grave hurt and life changing disappointment.

Yoshikawa, although certainly telling a gripping story, full of carefully rendered detail, is also clearly interested in some larger questions. What is this strange aura of exoticism that tinges the lives of all Asian women, from geishas to contemporary Japanese Americans? Is it possible for a woman to be happy again, after the loss of an all-consuming love? How is it that women undermine each other so cruelly in their search for personal happiness? How is it that women are also often the last and only bastion of support for each other?

Provocative questions, engaging characters, and an intricate plot make this novel more than just casual entertainment.