T. Coraghessan Boyle’s fifth novel, East Is East, satirizes the intransigence of the American and Japanese cultures, exposing the ignorance and ethnocentrism fundamental to their mutual misunderstanding.
Hiro Tanaka, the illegitimate son of an American musician and a Japanese mother, jumps ship off the coast of Georgia, hoping to escape the stigma his half-breed heritage has earned him in his native Japan, and perhaps to track down the father whose act of abandonment drove Hiro’s mother to suicide. Hiro has a romantic image of America: “He envisioned a city like Tokyo, with skyscrapers and elevated trains and a raucous snarl of traffic, but every face was different—they were white and black and yellow and everything in between and they all glowed with the rapture of brotherly love.” His identity as a Japanese, however, has been shaped by the writings of nationalist Yukio Mishima, who extolled a code of personal conduct tragically untenable in the West.
Hiro washes up on the shore of Tupelo Island, where his contact with the locals leads to a series of comic misadventures aggravated by his poor grasp of English and their prejudices. When he accidentally scares a black man to death, he becomes the object of a manhunt led by the local sheriff and his bigoted assistant.
Hiro seeks refuge at Thanatopsis House, a writers’ colony on the island, and is hidden away by Ruth Dershowitz, one of its writers-in-residence....
(The entire section is 431 words.)