The latest additions to my website are two books by Ruth Ozeki. The first is My Year of Meats, a very witty and somewhat polemic attack on various things – sexism, racism, the US obsession with guns and, in particular, the meat industry. It tells two stories of two women in parallel. The first, clearly based on the author, is Jane Takagi-Little, a documentary film maker who gets a job working on a TV programme called American Wife, to be shown in Japan, with the not very subtle intention of promoting meat-eating. Each episode shows a typical, wholesome (i.e. white, middle class) US family, ending up with their eating meat. Jane tries to subtly sabotage this by showing other types of families (Hispanic, African-American, a handicapped child and, finally, a Lesbian couple). The other story concerns Akiko, wife of Joichi Ueno, the advertising executive in Japan, with whom Jane has to deal. He is a sexist, racist bully, drinks, abuses and rapes his wife and and even tries to rape Jane, though preferring big-breasted Texan women. However, Ozeki’s mocking is generally mild, till she gets to the meat industry later in the book, when she lets loose. Meat eaters might want to turn away at this point. However, it is a very funny book, with some serious points to make
The second book is A Tale for the Time Being, her latest book. As with My Year of Meats, this tells two stories, one of a American woman (called Ruth) and one of a Japanese woman, only this Japanese woman is a sixteen year old, called Naoko (Nao). Ruth, who lives by the sea in British Columbia with her husband, Oliver (like her creator) finds washed up a Hello Kitty box containing Nao’s dairy, some letters and an old watch. She slowly reads the diary, learning about Nao’s somewhat difficult life. Nao’s father had worked for a US dotcom but the dotcom had gone bust and he had all his money invested in stock options. He has been unable to find a job in Japan and is suicidal. Nao does not fit in at the Japanese school and is cruelly bullied. Her one comfort becomes her great-grandmother, Jiko, a one hundred and four year old nun. Ruth and Oliver, meanwhile, are worried that Nao might have been killed in the Fukushima disaster. Despite strenuous efforts to find out, they come up with very little. While still somewhat polemical, particularly on environmental issues, Ozeki introduces more philosophical ideas, such as the issue of time, quantum physics and 9/11. The book has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and is a very worthy contender.