Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Suzanne Kamata

Suzanne Kamata's short stories, essays, articles and book reviews have appeared in over 100 publications including New York Stories, Calyx, Crab Orchard Review, Pleiades, Kyoto Journal, The Utne Reader, The Japan Times, Brain, Child, Skirt!, Ladybug, and Cicada. Her work also appears in the anthologies Yaponesia, The Beacon Best of 1999, It's a Boy, It's a Girl, Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined, Not What I Expected, and One Big Happy Family. She is the editor of the anthologies The Broken Bridge: Fiction from Expatriates in Literary Japan (Stone Bridge Press, 1997) and Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising Children with Special Needs (Beacon Press, 2008).

Her debut novel, Losing Kei, was released last year.

A few days ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I've always been interested in other cultures, which explains how I wound up living in Japan, and also my choice of reading materials. I often read novels in translation (most recently The Curse of Eve and other stories by a young Mexican writer, Liliana Blum), or books set in foreign countries. For example, last night I finished reading The Size of the World by Joan Silber, a cycle of stories that takes the reader from Vietnam in the 60s to Thailand in the 20s to the U.S. just after the attacks of 9/11. Although each story is told from a different point of view, all of these characters are connected, and the narratives combine into a satisfying whole. The stories were fascinating, and also instructive, because my novel-in-progress is told from various points of view and I'm trying to figure out how I can make it hang together.

Lark and Termite, by Jayne Anne Phillips, which I finished recently, is also told from multiple points of view, including those of a dying soldier during the war in Korea, and a disabled non-verbal boy. I think it was quite audacious of Phillips to try something like that, and I think she succeeded. This novel is of special interest to me because my daughter is disabled, and I was frustrated, at first, not to find many families with special needs children in modern adult literature. (There are actually quite a few novels now featuring autistic children, but not so many with other disabilities.)

Along these lines, I was excited to read T4 by Ann Clare LeZotte last week. The title refers to the Nazi's program to "euthanize" disabled individuals, and the novel-in-verse is told from the point of view of a deaf girl who is forced to hide out. The language is spare, but the story packs a powerful punch. Like my daughter, the author Ann Clare LeZotte is profoundly deaf, which makes this story even more of an accomplishment.

Last week I also read Mother in the Middle, by Sybil Lockhart, one of my colleagues at Lockhart, a neurobiologist, writes of raising small children while caring for her mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. She paints a vivid portrait of her family while illuminating the changes in her children's and mother's brains.

As for non-fiction, I've been reading The Samurai Way of Baseball by Robert Whiting as part of my research for my novel-in-progress (working title: The Baseball Widow). I didn't realize, until reading this book, how many minority players there have been in Japanese professional baseball. If you want to know anything about the J-league, Whiting is the guy to go to; this is his third book on the subject.

Finally, at bedtime, I've been signing Japanese picture books to my daughter, and reading Billy and the Birdfrogs to my nine-year-old son. This story of a boy living with his wacky grandmother combines adventure and mystery. It's got mammoth bones, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and miniature gorillas. What more could you want?
Visit Suzanne Kamata's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue