REVIEW: Midori by Moonlight by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga
Dear Ms. Tokunaga,
By now most of our regular readers know that I like books which promise to be something different, something unique and your book certainly delivers on both. But while I enjoyed the book, cheered on Midori and was happy that she at last finds her true love, I couldn’t help feeling that I never really saw beneath the surface of most of the characters. Whether they were good or bad characters, most of them were little more than two dimensional cutouts methodically working their way through this fairy tale of a novel.
You start the book by dropping us straight into the action. Midori Saito has arrived in San Francisco to marry her American fiance. It’s the culmination of a dream for her since she’s always wanted to 1) marry a non-Japanese man and 2) live in the US. I guess her desires must have blinded her to what an asshat Kevin is. He’s one of the characters who has no side except asshatiness. Later in the book Midori wonders what on earth she ever saw in him but this was my thought from the minute he steps on the page. He and his old girlfriend serve little more than to be the villains of the book.
After Kevin dumps Midori and dashes her dreams of marriage – and a green card which will allow her to stay in the US once her fiancee visa expires – she is offered a reprieve from Kevin’s old friend Shinji – call me Sean – Nishimura, a transplanted Japanese man who’s legally in the States. Offering her a place to live in exchange for rent and not being a slob, he keeps alive her dream of staying America. Shinji is sweet, kind, understanding and demands almost nothing from Midori. We see a little sliver of his background and understand somewhat that he’s a rebel against the Japanese “always fit in” culture just as is Midori but after that, he sort of fades into the background except when Midori needs help. His American girlfriend Tracy has a little bit more depth since we see a few different emotions from her yet even she serves little more than to move the plot along.
Without a green card and legal status, Midori almost gives up on finding any kind of job until luck and the plot drop one in her lap. True it’s working in a somewhat sleazy and run down Japanese hostess bar but it’s under the table money and Midori can’t be choosey. However even here we never delve into any of the character’s lives – with the exception of one – or see much beyond a group of women flattering tired businessmen and cajoling them into buying expensive drinks. Who are these women, why and how did they come to the US, what fate awaits them if they are returned to Japan? We see none of these things.
All through the book, we do see Midori working on her true love: desserts. Her dream is to be able to work as a pastry chef in a nice restaurant. My mouth did water a bit reading of the delectable creations she makes and buys throughout the city in her quest to perfect her craft and in my present watch-my-calories mode I envied her being able to eat so much sugar but somehow even this aspect of the book read as just surface skimming. See Midori bake something, see people try it, see them say ‘that’s excellent Midori,’ rinse and repeat.
At the very end of the story, after Midori’s suffered the slings and arrows of misfortune and persevered against a cold world, she is finally rewarded with what she’s hoped for if not quite in the manner she’d imagined. A job, possible legal status and a Prince Charming are finally hers. I felt happy for her yet still strangely unsatisfied as if I’d just gorged myself on a dinner of sweets and now wished I’d eaten something savory and more filling first. I liked meeting Midori, enjoyed a story in which some foreigners still appear to like Americans, laughed as Midori practiced her English language skills by watching a soap opera but in the end, I wanted more. 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.