Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Cynthia Kadohata’s first novel, The Floating World, was published to broad acclaim in 1989. That novel was an autobiographical work tracing the experiences of a young Japanese American girl growing up in the America of the 1950’s. Although the title is taken from a famous Japanese art style of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel is thoroughly American in setting and orientation. Many of the motifs and details—the long, exhilarating drives through desert terrain, the observant sensibility of a young girl who acts as the narrator—will be familiar to readers of In the Heart of the Valley of Love. Whereas The Floating World is set in the past and appeals to the nostalgia in readers, however, Kadohata’s second novel is set many decades in the future and appeals to readers’ sense of speculation and wonder.

Ethnic writers in America are often expected to restrict their subject matter and themes. Portrayal of established minority communities is common; less frequent is a searching look at how those communities might be transformed and catalyzed by the America of the future. Kadohata’s turn to science fiction marks her as a writer not content simply to write according to conventional formulae that will automatically garner her good reviews. Kadohata aims for a more genuine imaginative freedom; it is this imaginative willpower that makes her one of America’s most promising writers.