Book Review: East Is East by T. C. Boyle
January 28, 2011 12 Comments
I have a confession to make: I read this book in Dutch. I kept it on my shelves for ages because I love T. C. Boyle’s writing and thought a translation could not be half as good. You see, I like him especially for the way he writes.
But no, it was not bad. In fact, as translations go, it was quite good, I think. OK, let’s mention the translator as well, it was Sjaak Commandeur.
East is East: What it was about
Hiro Tanaka is a Japanese sailor with an unknown American father. He grew up in Japan and has always felt (and looked) an outsider. When the ship he’s working on nears the American coast, he jumps overboard and swims to shore.
He lands at Georgia near an artists’ colony. Here works Ruth Dershowitz, a beginning writer. She is the second main character of the book.
Ruth is very keen to become a successful writer but the story she works on does not progress very well. When she has the chance to hide Hiro from the authorities, she uses the situation as material for a new story.
As Hiro inadvertently has arrived on an island, and can’t escape easily to the mainland, the inhabitants gather to track him down and arrest him. Hiro uses a samurai book, that he brought with him, as inspiration on how to deal with the difficult situations he sees himself getting caught up in.
East is East: What I thought
I found the first quarter (maybe more) of the book quite slow going. There was a lot about Ruth and her position in the artists’ colony. I didn’t find her very interesting or pleasant.
I had more empathy for Hiro, who is trying to find a way to get away from the island and becomes more and more reliant on his samurai book as the situation becomes harder for him.
The story really picks up around three-quarters in the book and it even becomes hard to put down.
It was interesting how Hiro, who had always been looked down upon as a “foreigner” by his fellow Japanese, now found himself in a place where he was the “dirty Chinese” rather than the American of mixed race which he hoped to become.
Again, like in Tortilla Curtain, this is a book about an illegal immigrant at the very edge of society. I again wanted the immigrant to succeed in the US, but this doesn’t quite happen. He realizes in the end that he’s been treated as an outcast in America just as much as he had been in Japan.
I got this book: from a second-hall book stall
I read this in: Dutch, the original language is English
Number of pages: 332
First published: 1990
Genre: literary fiction
Extra: Check out my review of When the Killing is Done by T. C. Boyle