Books on Japan: The Beautiful One Has Come
The Beautiful One Has Come
Stories by Suzanne Kamata
Joanne G. Yoshida
The Beautiful One Has Come, stories by Suzanne Kamata, is a beautiful collection. I close the book slowly after reading the last page, as I would close a precious box.
Suzanne Kamata elegantly and flawlessly writes stories which speak of leaving and loving, of staying and confronting, and of the gradual discovery of finding one's place.
The stories are finely crafted and detailed while at the same time open enough to allow each reader to find their own epiphanies. The beautiful realization they led me to was:
Living in another culture is not about the other after all, it is about acceptance of ourselves.
Suzanne Kamata slips into her protagonists' roles and unfolds their stories like Mme. Monet, wearing an embroidered red kimono in the cover painting, displays her fan: confidently poised and with a twist. Whereas Mme. Monet lived in a time artistically where women were primarily seen by viewers as the model' in works done by their male admirers (in this case, admirer and husband Claude Monet), here Mme. Kamata is both the one depicting and depicted.
In a work of artistic balance she demonstrates through her protagonists how inhabiting two cultures can begin to give way to the ability to be oneself. Mme Monet, facing the viewer with her head tilted back in the center of the composition, becomes Ms. Kamata, well-deservedly at the center of her craft.
Suzanne Kamata has lived in Japan long enough to take us refreshingly past idealized and projected views of Japan and into such settings as a local town hall where hula classes are given in tatami rooms, a doctor's office in a rural Japanese town where the framed pictures on the walls are Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroes, The Tokyo Institute of Art at a time when women first entered, and a kitchen in a Japanese home where an Egyptian dish called tammia is being cooked to perfection. "I loved these when I was in Cairo," says Reina, the Japanese heroine in the title story which takes its name from a reference to the Egyptian queen Nefertiti.
She brings us into intimate moments, as in You're so Lucky, a story of giving birth.
"Japan, the country you have lived in for ten years, has never felt so foreign as it did on the day when you were forced to check into one of its hospitals." A threatened premature labor is compounded by having to worry about whether she would be able to speak Japanese under anesthesia. Suzanne Kamata has come a long way in the collective artistic journey, from a time when western artists admired Japan from afar, and were intrigued by the exotic and the evocative aesthetic as seen in it's fans, screens and kimonos.
From a taxi in Havana, to a small rural town in Japan, to Paris and Katoomba, and back again to a small rural town in Japan, the stories are either set in Japan or are brought back to Japan through some connection in the story. They express movement and longing and the degree to which we persist on our journeys between the familiar and the foreign. Like the Japanese artists, husband and wife, in Woman, Blossoming who set out by steamer to see the Paris art world:
"Finally in Paris, they settled into a cold water flat in the shadow of Sacre Coeur. Broke, and longing for rice and green tea, they subsisted on day-old bread and syrupy coffee. And they painted."
Suzanne Kamata's stories are both witty and serious and always fully fleshed out. There is something like a beginning of liberation on the other side of the struggles and difficulties of seeing beyond one's cultural eyes when we are patient enough to see that understanding others takes time.
"What should I do," Christina , the main character asks in Bonding for Beginners, "If she were Japanese, she would know. She would just plunge in."
As a reader, writer, mother and a long time resident of Japan, I loved this collection and found myself nodding, laughing and crying at moments, amazed at how easily I could relate to the details and relationships which Suzanne brought to life with her mastery of writing.
As an artist, I also love the poetic moments and found myself particularly attracted to characters like the artist in Woman, Blossoming who we are introduced to off to one side, "In her pigeon gray kimono, with her hair pulled into a tight ball, she looks the picture of propriety." Quick to bring Mary Cassatt's name into a discussion of European male painters, she struggles to come into herself in a time when women put their work behind their husbands.
The stories stay with me, I meet someone in my days whose struggle is something like a character in one of them, and I think oh, yes, she is going through a similar struggle with her mother-in-law as Yvonne in Drivingand Yvonne in Driving came through hers, so I begin to see a twinkle in the eye of this woman who I am meeting in real life and that she might be able to get through hers.
This has happened for me a few times already in encounters since reading The Beautiful One has Come, and in this way that the stories come out of the pages and connect to my days I find they become even more beautiful.
Experience them as a journey, and make your own connections. ... in the way we discover the beauty in life... each moment unfolds, like in the stories where the epiphanies of one lead to the beginning of another, without always needing to know what comes next. Thank you to Suzanne Kamata for sharing this wonderful collection with us.
About Suzanne Kamata
Suzanne Kamata's short work has appeared in over 100 publications. She is the author of a novel, Losing Kei, and a picture book, Playing for Papa, both of which concern bicultural families. She is also the editor of two previous anthologies: The Broken Bridge: Fiction from Expatriates in Literary Japan and Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs, and is currently fiction editor of Literary Mama. Born and raised in Michigan and most recently from South Carolina, she now lives in rural Japan with her Japanese husband and bicultural twins.
(Bio from Advance Press Release, Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing Inc)
Review + images by Joanne G. Yoshida