My American Wife!, a documentary/TV show featuring American housewives cooking meat dishes is being filmed in America. It is aired in Japan to promote meat consumption. In America we have Jane Takagi-Little, a Japanese-American woman who is in charge of directing the documentary. She is independent, righteous, creative and interrogative. On the Japanese side of things we have Akiko the bulimic Japanese housewife, who seems to be Jane’s exact opposite: meek, frail and completely under her husband’s control. In fact, she is bullied by her husband into carefully watching the show every week and cooking the recipes shown so she can gain some weight- and bear children.
This book was an odd one. A humorous yet dark book… on meat? Containing the clash of American and Japanese cultures? Not just a novel but also an informative, documentary-like sort of book, with information on the meat industry? Yes. I really enjoy that type of thing though, where the author sticks in bits of information related to the story-line. It’s not boring at all- on the contrary it makes the book a lot more realistic. (Yann Martel does the same thing in Life of Pi. I really think it adds a lot to the book.) Also, after reading this book, I really feel like reading Shonagon’s Pillow Book. Ozeki makes a lot of references to it and I found that I can also relate to some of Shonagon’s lists. After looking more into her I found this list, which I especially liked:
81. Awkward Things
One has gone to a house and asked to see someone; but the wrong person appears, thinking that it is he who is wanted; this is especially awkward if one has brought a present.
One has allowed oneself to speak badly about someone without really intending to do so; a young child who has overheard it all goes and repeats what one has said in front of the person in question.
Someone sobs out a pathetic story. One is deeply moved; but it so happens that not a single tear comes to one’s eyes— most awkward. Though one makes one’s face look as if one is going to cry, it is no use: not a single tear will come. Yet there are times when, having heard something happy, one feels the tears streaming out.
Coming back to the story line, I found Akiko a warmer character (compared to Jane). She was more like Nao in A Tale For The Time Being, another novel by Ozeki. These type of characters, who are placed in a difficult and desperate situation and are feeling pretty down about it, I feel a lot of compassion for them. I feel like hugging them and I hate all the people who are making their lives even more difficult. Something else that really gets to me: seeing the gentle and noble side of some of the colder characters. For My Year Of Meats, these characters were Suzuki and Oh, Jane’s camera crew.
I don’t know how I feel about meat after reading this book. I’ve never been a fan of meat, especially red meat, but I don’t think I’m becoming a vegetarian anytime soon, purely for practical reasons (I believe I might die if I stop eating meat, since my college cafeteria has no vegetarian menu.) However, Ozeki’s message did hit home: the scenes of the slaughterhouse and the feedlot (especially the feedlot) were very disturbing to me and I am concerned about the hormones they use on animals.
Reader, if I had to pick one of Ozeki’s books, I think I’d still pick A Tale For The Time Being. It moved me more. It also has the advantage of being the first Ozeki novel I read. However, I recommend this book wholeheartedly. In fact, not just this book, but this author.
Take care, dear reader.