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ENTRY

Review: Love in Translation
June 22, 2010

Love in Translation
Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

Set in Japan, Love in Translation is a pitch-perfect, cross-cultural romantic comedy that ends with dramatic discovery of identity. Celeste Duncan, a young American woman, is adrift in a dead-end relationship with her boyfriend, Dirk, and an even more dead-end career as a technical editor. When her Aunt Michiko “Mitch” Taniguchi dies, Celeste, as the sole surviving family, receives a box containing her ashes and mysterious family heirlooms. The collection add up to clues possibly identifying Celeste’s father whom she doesn’t know.

The clues lead her to Japan, oddly so, because Celeste doesn’t look Japanese. And Aunt Mitch her Japanese aunt was only her aunt because she married her mother’s brother. Celeste grew up knowing nothing about Japan except a memory of Aunt Mitch singing Japanese songs. The most important clue is only an old picture and a name: Hiromi Taniguchi, Aunt Mitch’s sister.

In Japan, Celeste finds a home-stay family, the Kubotas. Mrs. Kubota exchanges a room for English lessons. Soon after she moves in, the story’s love interest arrives from America: the Kubotas’ handsome son, Takuya. Celeste is immediately smitten with him. Of course, Mrs. Kubuta has a nice Japanese woman in mind for her son, plus he seems to have other women in his life.

Celeste is struggling with the cultural and language differences, and to find Aunt Mitch’s sister, she decides she needs to learn Japanese. She meets a teacher, Mariko, a Japanese woman who lived in America and from her prodigious use of four-letter words apparently learned her English in a rough bar. Mariko is great comedy relief but doesn’t teach very well.

The only thing that seems to come easily for Celeste is singing “enka” – old-fashioned, heart-rending songs. In particular, she can sing “Nozomi no Hoshi” (“The Wishing Star”) as well as professional singers. Her ability lands her on a “gaijin” (“foreigner”) talent show, designed to make fun of the gaijin more than showcase their talent. The feisty host of the show, Sakura Sasaki, turns out to be one of Takuya’s prior love interests, adding to the conflicts. All of these storylines come together in a surprise and touching ending.

While there are many books set in Japan that dwell on the oddities of Japanese culture, Wendy Tokunaga does a masterful job of poking gentle fun at them through Japan-newbie Celeste. For those of us who have personally experienced them, we can laugh out-loud at the memories they evoke. Having read so many serious books recently on the dark side of Japan, Love is Translation was a pleasure. By the way, Wendy Tokunaga also sings, and has recorded her version of “Nozomi no Hoshi.” To hear it, visit her website at www.wendytokunaga.com.

COMMENTS

Number of comments: 3
click here to add a comment

Lee Witte
Sounds like a fun read, I'll get it.

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga
Thanks so much, Todd!

Gail
I'll check it out too.

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