A few weeks ago I finished reading American Fuji by Sara Backer. From the moment I saw this book on the shelf of my local, independent bookstore, I knew I had to read it. It’s about an American woman, Gaby Stanton, who is living in Shizuoka, Japan and teaching university-level English…that is until she gets fired and begins working for a fantasy funeral company, Gone With the Wind. Stanton meets Alex Thorn, a father who comes to Japan to answer questions about his son’s death while he was a student at the university where Gaby was employed. Gaby and Alex are just two of the wonderful, creative cast of characters that Backer weaves into this compelling story.
Of course I can relate to much about this novel — being a gaijin woman in Japan, teaching English, riding in taxis with drivers who asked if I liked natto (bean paste), the ups and downs of relating to Japanese culture, and even ordering a pizza to be delivered. Backer has a great gift for sharing details of life in Japan that brought me right back to my experiences living there more than ten years ago. I found myself nodding (or was I bowing?) and laughing out loud.
Although the setting is what initially drew me to the book, what I also appreciated was that American Fuji is about real life and a real Japan. The action takes place in many places that one might not read about in typical books about Japan: a race track, a gaijin bar, a hospital (this made me think of my favorite, hospital scene in the movie, Lost In Translation). At the core, American Fuji is about illness, heartache, outcasts, regrets, new beginnings and it just happens to be set in Japan.
I was so impressed by the novel that I decided to send Sara an e-mail telling her how great I thought it was. And while I was at it, I asked her if she’d be willing to share her thoughts in an interview here at Motherlogue. She graciously agreed.
Tune in on Thursday to read our conversation about Japan, about yakuza and about writing.