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Asian hero

REVIEW:  The Words of the Pitcher by Kei Swanson

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.


REVIEW: Gold Mountain by Sharon Cullars

REVIEW: Gold Mountain by Sharon Cullars

Dear Ms. Cullars,

I can’t recall whose blog I was reading when this book was mentioned but I’m glad I found out about it. A Negro heroine and a Chinese hero in 1865? Sign me up.
Gold Mountain Sharon Cullars

“In 1865, the hope for gold has spurred many to seek their fortunes in California, the place the Chinese call Gum San or “Gold Mountain.” Amidst this backdrop, Quiang, a new Chinese immigrant, works the dangerous rails hoping to save enough money to send home to his parents. In town, Leah and Clara, two enterprising women from New York, have plans of their own to grow a restaurant and laundry business. However, both plans go awry when Quiang and Leah meet one fateful day. What starts as a budding attraction soon grows into tumultuous desire despite the cultural and language barriers between them.

Initially resistant, Leah succumbs to passion following a tragic loss that leaves her vulnerable and alone. With hopes for a future that now includes Leah, Quiang embarks on a perilous path as he leaves the railroad behind for a more profitable position as a courier for The Tong, henchmen for the dangerous Triad. Quiang soon finds that navigating the secretive life of a courier brings more danger than he has ever faced on the railroad, dangers that not only threaten to tear him and Leah apart, but may cost them their lives as well.”

The book begins in media res with a scene showing the dangerous job Quiang and the other Chinese workers do. It also makes clear how little they were valued and how much less they were paid. Leah and Clara are also outside the mainstream. They have more say in what they do but the work is also hard plus they’re women alone in a town mainly populated by men and have learned to keep a shotgun handy. Though you avoid info dumps about them and flesh out Leah and Quiang slowly over the course of the book, I would still have enjoyed just a little bit more about before they each reached the mining town. As well, the book moves quickly past their escape from the villain and jumps far into their marriage. It’s nice to know how well they’re doing, that the family has grown and to be left with a positive feeling about their future but I would like to have seen just a touch more – their wedding, their initial time in Colorado…a little bit more.

The detailing is nicely done and makes it easy to imagine the rough and tumble town. I like how you didn’t attempt to shoehorn foreign words and phrases into the dialog but instead used plain English for Quiang and the other Chinese characters leaving the reader to assume that they’d be speaking fluently in their own language. Neither Leah nor Quaing are looking for a romance or even merely a friendship with the other. Thank goodness there’s no “one night of love to last a lifetime” jump into the fire used to justify bringing them together too soon. As their relationship progresses though, both Leah and Quaing are also well aware of the societal views and challenges they could face as a couple.

At the halfway point, I was wondering how you’d manage to get these two together in the face of the odds against them. The story is well plotted and the events flow together in a way to lead Leah and Quaing to their destiny together. And yet, I still wanted more. It appears you’ve done plenty of research about life in the mining towns and the challenges which faced Negros and Coolies (your choice of descriptions) but even though these are slipped quietly into the threads of the story, they felt more like a stone skipping across the surface. Sort of a “Here’s something interesting about life then” but these will only briefly be mentioned then little more is said about them or how they affects the main characters again. Generally there are at least a few scenes in any book which seem like merely page padders to me but this is a book which I would have loved to have seen expanded. B-