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Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

REVIEW: Midori by Moonlight by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

REVIEW: Midori by Moonlight by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

Midori_coverDear Ms. Tokunaga,

You had me fooled. I thought you were Japanese. From the minute I started reading this, I felt like a Japanese woman was writing it, and it had been published in Japan. And since this is written from your heroine’s close point of view and she’s a Japanese woman, that’s a good thing, though not all readers might see it that way.

I am endlessly fascinated by Japan, both the good and the bad of it. The reserved Japanese styles of interpersonal and intrapersonal interactions are particularly fascinating to me, and though I’m not Japanese I felt you really nailed that aspect of the main character, at least from what I know. You portrayed the shortcomings of Midori’s style of thinking and acting when it came to her dealing with a new culture, and fairly portrayed the good and bad as she saw it of American behavior. There’s not a lot of overt emotion here, just always measured responses, which are accurate but also unfortunately not all that exciting to read about.

That kind of sums up the pros and cons of the book for me. Pro: While most of the cross-cultural romances I’ve read in the past seem to pay only lip service to a person being raised elsewhere, throwing in something akin to a tea ceremony for color, this book I think genuinely gives the reader the experience of thinking from a Japanese woman’s perspective as she looks at a new life and romance in the United States.

Cons: I think a number of readers will come upon this unaware and be dissatisfied. We already had a discussion among the reviewers here about your choice in tenses, which to my mind was accurate from a Japanese writing standpoint (since a Japanese friend confirmed to me that Japanese novels tend to be written in present tense), and because I felt that Midori was living in the “now” and trying to dissociate herself from her roots. But some readers won’t like the choice because it’s odd to the Western ear.

Also, I think some might not enjoy the romance as much because Midori approaches it in a very reserved fashion. She’s quite outspoken in Japan, but compared to San Franciscans she has a long way to go. She still keeps much to herself, and the feelings are subtle, maybe too much so. The same goes for Shinji, who actually has an American girlfriend for much of the book, though you show them as being an odd fit that drifts apart because there was nothing much there to hold them together to being with. And, we don’t get to see Shinji’s point of view, which will also be a negative for some readers. So I think this might be a hard sell with the average romance reader.

But I’m one who got into reading manga because I found English romances to be stale, and I wanted something new. This is definitely a different experience, and it really rings authentic to me. Sure, the heroine has some lucky breaks, but this is a romance. I think anyone who truly wants to experience romance and a Japanese woman’s experience in America from a different point of view would enjoy reading it, but they need to realize that’s what they’re in for. B+




This book can be purchased in trade paperback. No ebook format found. Jane’s Note: Just as an FYI, you might want to call ahead to see if your bookstore has it. I called three before I could locate a copy.

Dear Author

REVIEW: Midori by Moonlight by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

Dear Ms. Tokunaga,

Midori_coverI was really looking forward to Midori by Moonlight. It sounded so interesting: a Japanese woman coming to San Francisco to marry an American man, only to get dumped for his ex-fiancée and then left to fend for herself. I don’t think I’ve read many womens fiction/chick lit novels with that premise, and I’m always looking for something new and different. But I’m sorry to say, while the idea may have been fresh, the execution was not.

In Japan, thirty-year-old Midori Saito is the nail that can’t get hammered down. She loves all things American, balks at her parents’ matchmaking attempts, and dreams of moving to the United States to work as a tour guide. When an American proposes to her after a whirlwind romance, it’s her dream come true. Unfortunately, the dream doesn’t last long — her fiance dumps her the day after their engagement party.

Midori has no desire to return to Japan. She’s finally in the U.S., where she’s always wanted to go, and she has no intention of proving her mother’s dire predictions correct. Lucky for her, her ex-fiance has an old college friend, Shinji, who offers her the spare room in his apartment after hearing her plight.

What frustrated me most about this book is that its many good points were overshadowed by the stale and unoriginal. Soon after moving into Shinji’s apartment, she meets his neighbor and is immediately attracted to him, but her pursuit of him leads to an unsurprising end. Shinji’s girlfriend Tracy is jealous of Midori, who remains oblivious of the fact for much longer than can be reasonably believed. And was there any doubt about how the relationship between Midori and Shinji would end?

Midori as a narrator didn’t help matters any either. While I adored Midori’s love of pastries and desserts and liked how she kept getting American idioms wrong, her misunderstandings seemed less like a result of ignorance about American customs and cultural norms and more a result of stupidity and willful ignorance. I almost stopped reading several times during the first third of the book because of her. Perhaps this is simply a matter of novel-reader disconnect because many times I felt the humor was derived more from watching Midori be a “stupid Japanese girl” than anything else and that’s not something I enjoy reading.

On the other hand, what saved this book from being a DNF read was the presentation of cultural fetishization and how it affects romantic and sexual relationships. Midori has only ever been attracted to Caucasian men. Her ex-fiance, while planning to marry his Caucasian girlfriend, secretly frequents host clubs in Japantown. Shinji has only ever dated Caucasian women. Shinji’s girlfriend loves all things Japanese. I liked how these aspects intersected and showed us that sometimes it’s not the actual thing you love but what it represents. In the end, this was a C+ read for me.

My regards,

This book can be purchased in trade paperback. No ebook format found.