Cynthia Kadohata Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What is the importance of the family in Cynthia Kadohata’s fiction?

Kadohata has said that travel has always inspired her fiction. What function does travel have for plot and characters of her novels?

In Kira-Kira, Katie and Lynn are close but also two different sisters. What are some of their differences, and what, if any, are their similarities?

What is the relationship like between daughters and mothers in Kadohata’s first and fourth novel? What are some complicating factors in these relationships?

What is your view of Kadohata’s decision to move the story of her second novel into the future? Was it a successful creative choice?

What is the importance of Kadohata’s Japanese American background for characters, settings and plots of her first and fourth novel?

What are some examples of the detached style in which Kadohata’s young woman narrators talk about the things they observe in their worlds?

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although Cynthia Kadohata (kah-doh-hah-tah) studied journalism intending to become a reporter, she did not seek professional employment in that field. Kadohata began writing short stories as a teenager and then resumed that craft in the late 1970’s because she believed she could reveal truths better through fiction than through nonfiction. In 1986, The New Yorker first accepted one of Kadohata’s stories. Her short stories have also been published in Grand Street, Pennsylvania Review, Ploughshares, Mississippi Review, and The New York Times. Kadohata’s stories have been included in several collections, such as Charlie Chan Is Dead: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian American Fiction (1993), edited by Jessica Hagedorn, and American Eyes: New Asian-American Short Stories for Young Adults (1994), edited by Lori M. Carlson, for which Kadohata wrote the introduction. She has incorporated several of her short stories into her long fiction and has begun preparing screenplays based on her work.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Recognition of the quality of Cynthia Kadohata’s writing has come in the form of financial support from a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation Award, and a fellowship from the Chesterfield Writer’s Film Project. The universal appeal of Kadohata’s fiction has resulted in her novels being issued in numerous languages, including Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Spanish, Polish, Serbian, Italian, and Romanian. Her works have also been released in Braille, large-print, and audio editions. Several of Kadohata’s novels have achieved best-seller status, have received starred reviews, and have been named outstanding examples of historical fiction. Because of their profound themes and insights, Kadohata’s books attract readers representing several generations, ranging from elementary school students to senior citizens.

Kadohata’s In the Heart of the Valley of Love was designated a PEN West Award finalist. In 2005, the American Library Association presented its Newbery Medal to Kadohata’s book Kira-Kira. That novel also received the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature 2004-2005. The Pacific Rim Voices Project designated Kira-Kira a Kiryama Prize Notable Book, and the Bank Street College of Education included the novel on its 2004 list of Best Children’s Books of the Year. In 2007, Kadohata’s novel Weedflower won the 2007 PEN USA Literary Award for Children’s Literature and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Kadohata, Cynthia. “Cynthia Kadohata.” Interview by Lisa See. Publishers Weekly, August 3, 1992, 48-49. See provides details of the novelist’s life, reports on her ambivalence toward being hailed as a new voice on the Asian American literary scene, and relates her approach to the writing process.

Kakutani, Michiko. “Growing Up Rootless in an Immigrant Family.” Review of The Floating World, by Cynthia Kadohata. The New York Times, June 30, 1989, p. C27. Kakutani calls Kadohata’s prose “beautiful, clean yet lyrical” and claims that she “creates an emotionally precise picture” of Olivia’s family.

Kakutani, Michiko. “Past Imperfect, and Future Even Worse.” Review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, by Cynthia Kadohata. The New York Times, July 28, 1992, p. C15. Kakutani criticizes the inadequate plot structure of In the Heart of the Valley of Love while praising Kadohata’s “obvious talent” as a writer.

O’Hehir, Diana. “On the Road with Grandmother’s Magic.” Review of The Floating World, by Cynthia Kadohata. The New York Times Book Review, July 23, 1989, p. 16. For O’Hehir, The Floating World is about “families, coming of age, guilt, memory” and superstitions, or “magic.” Argues that the novel’s exploration of Japanese American experience in the 1950’s is subtle.

Pearlman, Mickey, ed. Listen to Their Voices: Twenty Interviews with Women Who Write. New York: Norton, 1993. Provides information about Kadohata’s life and her own observations on her novels.

Smith, Wendy. “Future Imperfect: Los Angeles 2052.” Review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, by Cynthia Kadohata. The Washington Post Book World, August 16, 1992, 5. Smith praises the atmosphere and prose of In the Heart of the Valley of Love.