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REVIEW: The Words of the Pitcher by Kei Swanson

“When the Cleveland Chiefs baseball team signs Kentaro Ikuta as their new star pitcher, they are faced with a man unable to speak English and a media frenzy clamoring for his words. Management turns to the renown linguistics department of Case Western Reserve University for help. Doctoral candidate Claire Ferris is chosen to act as interpreter and English teacher for Kentaro and finds herself suddenly thrown into the glaring fast-paced world of Major League Baseball.”

Dear Ms. Swanson,

Frequent readers here know that I like to seek out the unusual whether in settings, place or characters. In a recent article here, Jane provided us with a luscious photo of Asian mantitty and in the comments, people lamented the lack of Asian characters in books and suggested other phwoar-worthy subjects. One of the posters mentioned your book and I decided to track down a copy.

WordsofthepitcherThe first thing I noticed is that the team the story uses has been renamed the Cleveland Chiefs. I assume you did that to get around MLB restrictions or some such even though Chief Wahoo is mentioned. The team is in the correct League and during the season plays other teams in the American League and, when they make the World Series, play a team from the National League. You have Claire down at spring training with the team and go a bit into that and some of the regular season stuff before the playoffs arrive.

There’s some – to me – slightly wonky stuff then such as when Kentaro injures his pitching hand and no team trainer much less doctor even appears to take a look at it before Claire zips him off to her manicurist to repair the completely split nail or Claire questions the pitching coach about why Kentaro isn’t playing one evening and when said coach reminds Kentaro he’s pitching that night in the final Series game. Would he not know which games he’s to play? Would a coach not get pissed at Claire questioning his decisions? And wouldn’t a major league team have a doctor on staff to look after their star pitcher? I would think so but then I know very little about baseball. Still, you appear to get most things correct so far as I can tell which might make some readers very happy if this is of major interest to them.

As for the romance….I love seeing an Asian hero in a contemporary story. Hell, any period story for that matter. But for the first half of the story, I didn’t get much of a feel for Kentaro. Here he’s in a foreign country, learning a foreign language and I learn nothing about how he feels about this. What does he like about Cleveland, about the people, about his team mates and is playing US baseball living up to his childhood dream? But also what does he miss about Japan, what foods does he crave, what or who does he long to see? I’d have like some insights about this. The story starts with mainly Claire’s point of view and for a little while I was afraid the book would remain there but even in the scenes from Kentaro’s POV, the man remains an enigma for a long while.

On the other hand, there’s a lot about and centering on Claire. Claire does a good job as an interpreter and by the end of the story she’s got Kentaro up to speed with his English language skills but Claire can also snap at people and be a little whiny at times though when Kentaro jerks her around romantically, I can understand her anger. It takes them a while to get past Kentaro’s natural reserve but once they’re a couple, it’s hot sex – though please, no more “forested lips” in the purple prose department – all around. That is until an arranged marriage rears its ugly head and, as I referred to earlier, Kentaro won’t either break the engagement nor give up Claire. When his Japanese American agent finally urges Kentaro to grow a pair and fix the situation, he finally – finally! – does so but not before hurting everyone. And why does his Japanese fiancee have to be presented in so negative a manner? She morphs from sweet childhood friend to clingy, sycophant just when the plot demands it. The break ups and make ups tried my patience as well as Claire’s.

I have to reluctantly say that the writing style feels a little clunky and stilted at times when neither Claire nor Kentaro uses any contractions in their speech. I could see Kentaro not doing so but Claire? I do applaud your decision to only sprinkle a bare minimum of Japanese through the text and merely indicate which language Claire and Kentaro are speaking then present it in English.

I’m glad someone mentioned the book and also that I gave it a try. Kudos to you for writing it in the first place and then pursuing what it took to get it into print. Though parts of it didn’t work well for me, maybe others will find it exactly what they’re hoping for.



NOTE: This is an older book (I believe from 2000) so I don’t think there’s an ebook version.


Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.


  1. Jane
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 07:13:15

    I’m disappointed that this book wasn’t a gem. Your thoughts about baseball are spot on. There are team doctors and I am skeptical that Claire’s manicurist could help Kentaro or that she would have any say with the pitching coach. Lineups for the world series are generally announced before the world series.

  2. coribo25
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 07:18:07

    I’m stalling a little on the blurb. Not sure how the departments at that univeristy are organised, but is there a reason why they turn to the linguistics department rather than modern languages for an interpreter? And why wasn’t an interpreter part of the transfer deal if the guy is high profile enough to cause a media frenzy? Wouldn’t that have been ironed out in pre-contract discussions? And how are the management faced with a guy who can’t speak english – didnt they bother to find out? I haven’t read the story so there might be reasons for the above, but why not just make the romance between the sportman and the interpreter employed to ease his way in a foreign land?

  3. Dabney
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 07:37:29

    “forested lips”? I am a bit lost here. Was that a reference to her lady parts? If so, that is hilarious. Pines? Maples? Catcti?

  4. Jayne
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 07:53:27

    @Dabney: Yep, “forested lips” are her lady parts. No mention on what tree but since she’s so gaga about everything Japanese perhaps they are Japanese Maples.

  5. Jayne
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 08:01:19

    @coribo25: His agent is a Japanese American who is fluent in both languages. As to the translators – first he came over from Japan with one but then said that the man wasn’t translating what he said correctly (his sister who speaks better English read the newspaper articles). The second translater that the team provided didn’t speak Kentaro’s level of Japanese. When the team manager told Claire all this, she said that Kentaro might be from a Samurai family and speak a higher level of Japanese. Apparently the guy used too much slang for Kentaro’s liking. Claire then said that Kentaro’s speech might be a more formal level than the interpretor could speak. She then told them she can speak most levels of Japanese which is why when the team contacted Case Western’s language department, they recommended Claire.

    I have no idea whether any of this is correct or not.

  6. Cathy KJ
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 08:01:53

    As a CWRU grad who was there in 2000, I think the university only has cognitive linguistics. I don’t know anything about that field, but I don’t think that’s where you turn for a translator.

    Also wondering about the “forrested lips,” but afraid to ask what it was code for…

  7. Jayne
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 08:08:40

    @Jane: Kentaro’s fingernail was split by trying to catch a ball without a glove on. Claire takes him to her manicurist (after speaking to her oncologist father) who fits some kind of fake nail thingie over his nail and glues it in place. The whole time I’m reading this I’m thinking …WTF?

    And then the pitching coach reminds Kentaro he’s pitching that night – the final and deciding 7th game, of the World Series, the first one Kentaro’s ever participated in, and again I’m thinking…he needs to be reminded?

    The cover is also incorrect – even though the guy is cute – in that Kentaro’s supposed to have shoulder length hair.

  8. coribo25
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 08:24:28

    @Jayne: Thanks for the explanation, I’m not sure either how any of that plays into the story, but Claire seems to have an amazing command of the Japanese language. I’m prepared to go with the flow for the sake of the romance, but oh my, forrested lips? That’s trying a little too hard.

  9. Jayne
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 08:31:01

    @Cathy KJ: The book doesn’t go into a great deal of detail about Claire’s field of study but does mention she’s a doctoral candidate working on her thesis.

  10. Jayne
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 08:33:21

    @coribo25: Yeah, the purple prose body parts are a blast from the past.

    I know nothing about the Japanese language so after reading all that, I just went with it too. Claire starts off by speaking a very formal level of Japanese with Kantaro. I’m not sure what level “forrested lips” would be in.

  11. Dabney
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 09:05:12

    @Jayne: Well, given the scope, I’m sure she was thinking bonsai.

  12. Sunita
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 09:43:17

    Like Jane, I’m always looking for good baseball romances, and I’m disappointed this wasn’t better. I agree that linguistics makes no sense as the relevant department. And university-level language training almost always includes the formal/honorific aspects of languages that make those distinctions. (I think that’s what the author is talking about, rather than a “higher level” of Japanese). I also assume here that “samurai” means aristocratic or gentry-equivalent.

    I can live with all that, but letting your star pitcher go to a manicurist to get his *hand* worked on before the World Series? Yeah, right. Yes, teams have doctors on staff, and players see them first. And the girlfriend/translator asking the manager about changes to the pitching rotation? Please.

  13. maili
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 09:54:05

    I read this after this author had a fight with three authors years ago over whether Asian men can be accepted as heroes in US Romance. Three authors firmly said no, which upset and angered this author. Some readers at AAR incl myself bought copies as (support. It was a D read, but didn’t regret buying as i found it an interesting read. Problem: Old Japan in present day. Even people back home would find Kentaro weird and very old fashioned. Like we would find an English blokespeaking and behaving like a stereotypical Victorian dandy today, e.g. kentaro speaking super keigo or at super formal polite level. Too unreal and weird for me. There were other similar oddities of swanson’s portyal of kentaro, sister and fiancee. But Sorry i am on phone

  14. maili
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 10:09:26

    Argh. Stupi phone. Limited comment box. But kudos to author for trying to prove that non-mixed asian men can be rom heroes, though.

  15. Moriah Jovan
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 10:34:50

    I’ve read this author’s two Japanese historicals (okay, okay, for the Asian hero, sue me) and adored them. I’ll read ANYTHING she writes.

  16. MrsJoseph
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 10:47:06

    Awwww. I was hoping this was a good one! Jane started something with the Lee Byung Hun pic and now I want some hot Asian alpha heroes! Think we can get a list of good books to check out?

  17. Maura
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 11:02:42

    Errrrr. Based on this review, neither the baseball aspects nor the language aspects seem well thought out here. I would really really love to say I want to read this one, but the idea of a baseball player who speaks such formalized and archaic Japanese that he fires two translators for being too idiomatic is a pretty peculiar one. And so is the notion that Claire would be allowed to question anything a pitching coach says without getting thrown out on her ass, or that Kentaro wouldn’t know he was scheduled to pitch in the Series, or or or or. Argh. I would love to see more Asian heroes in contemporaries, but it sounds like the details in this one would grate on me too much for me to enjoy it.


  18. Jane
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 11:25:16

    Jayne’s internet access cut out but when she is back online, she’ll reply to comments.

  19. Kay
    Apr 18, 2012 @ 22:33:21

    I’m thinking I’m the one who recommended this in the first place. Met the author at RT? (I think) and bought the book and loved it. Just went with the romance without worrying about the linguistics dept and whether or not the baseball aspect worked. I was looking for a truly multi-cultural book and this fit.

    Thank you for reading this and giving the author exposure. I hope she finds this. To have your book talked about 12 years after it is published–what’s better than that?

  20. Jessica
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 00:52:28

    I’ve never commented here before (although I always enjoy reading the comment discussions!) and I’m really trying to hold off jumping into this one and sounding like one of those people who can’t stand not injecting their own opinion about something they just happen to know…but…but…

    …I can’t help myself! I’m a Japanese to English translator who lives in Japan, and I can tell you that the whole Samurai/”higher level of Japanese” thing is pretty absurd. Japanese has varying levels of formality (like most languages do), but not to the degree that impedes understanding for people with any degree of fluency (and interpreters by nature have to be fluent). The most formal Japanese you will encounter these days is that spoken to/by the Imperial family, which is not incomprehensible to normal people (it’s not like the difference between modern and Middle English, or anything!). Unless Kentaro’s family has been living in a commune with no contact with the outside world for the past 500 years, the whole concept is kind of ridiculous.

    I’m all for books about women doing jobs that aren’t wedding planner/magazine intern/teacher, but you have to make sure to do enough research so that you don’t sound totally ignorant. Maybe this would have been a better book if it was a romance between Kentaro and the manicurist who heroically repaired his finger…

  21. Jayne
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 17:18:40

    @Sunita: “Level” was the word used by Claire to describe the degrees of formality of the language. And I assumed what you do about “samurai = gentry.”

  22. Jayne
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 17:21:02

    @maili: Absolutely. I totally agree with you there and@MrsJoseph: I second the wish for a list of books with Asian heroes and heroines.

  23. Jayne
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 17:29:59

    @Jessica: Jump right in here! It’s always great to have someone with more knowledge than I have clarifiying points of discussion.

    It’s not that Kentaro doesn’t speak or understand a more informal form of Japanese but he doesn’t appear to like slang – or that was the reason kind of given for why he didn’t approve of the translator initially provided by the team. Claire kind of assumes that she needs to start speaking to/with him as formal as she can get and then decide if that’s what he’s comfortable conversing with her in.

    I think the idea of a manicurist getting a romance is great and perhaps this language angle might have worked better if the other translator had had to leave suddenly for a family emergency or something leaving Claire to be the quick “go to” person whose stay ended up being longer than originally anticipated. ;)

  24. Jayne
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 17:36:39

    @Kay: Yes, you did rec it and I appreciate that you did. Have you read either of her historicals?

    @Moriah Jovan: I saw the historicals when I was searching out an image for this book’s cover. They’re a series, right?

  25. Moriah Jovan
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 18:47:55


    I saw the historicals when I was searching out an image for this book’s cover. They’re a series, right?


    1. The Seabird of Sanematsu

    2. Season of Sanematsu

  26. Kay
    Apr 19, 2012 @ 21:46:22

    @Jayne: No, I’ve not read either of her historicals, although in the back of my mind I knew they existed.

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