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Country of Origin: A Novel

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Entertaining story line

    In 1980 University of Berkley graduate student Lisa Countryman, a half-Japanese, half-black American, conducts her dissertation research in Tokyo on the brutal societal conformity of bar girls. Lisa also has a personal agenda to learn more about who she is as a mixed race person................... Needing work, Lisa finds employment as a hostess girl at a Tokyo men's club. Eventually she vanishes and her disappearance comes to the attention of American Junior Diplomat Tom Hurley, who has no interest in a half-breed¿s disappearance except as a nuisance that takes him away from the embassy pool and cocktails, which in his mind is more important to a purebred Hawaiian that he insists he is. In fact he is embarrassed by his roots of being a hybrid half-Korean, half white. Police Inspector Kenzo Ota, who spent three miserable teen years in Missouri, investigates the missing American, feeling strongly this case could make his career if he can solve it fast................ This is an interesting look at racial relationships told through the three key characters whose convergence centers on the disappearance. The entertaining story line grips the reader from the moment that Lisa¿s vanishing is reported and never slows down as Tom half heartedly and Ota fully are engaged in learning what happened to her. Though minor in terms of the plot, the Tokyo embassy is in bright contrast to the stark Iranian hostage situation that is occurring at the same time. Don Lee uses a Japanese police procedural to provide a strong look at is racial origins................... Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2004

    Intriguing Look at Sex & Racial Homogeneity

    Where in the world is Lisa Countryman? Lisa, a twenty-something American woman of mixed-heritage seems to have disappeared after a trip to Japan. As the plot unfolds in ¿Country of Origin,¿ we learn that Lisa is a Ph.D. candidate looking to write about Japan¿s matriarchal society. Her research (and need for money) leads her down the dark path of the country¿s underground sex world in the early eighties, where men pay wads of cash for female companionship. Is it the reason for her disappearance? That¿s what Kenza Ota would like to know....................... Ota, a bumbling detective, is given the task of finding the whereabouts of Countryman. But his lack of skill either leads him to dead ends or two steps behind. Though Ota suffers from the humiliation of being a terrible detective, he takes the Countryman case very seriously since it could redeem him. Meanwhile, Ota deals with the crisis in his personal life, including a divorce that occurred fourteen years ago that left him single and celibate. When his ex shows up in Japan with her teenage son, he is convinced that he is the boy¿s father. He follows the boy while working up the nerve to speak to him........................... Then there¿s Tom Hurley. Tom, an embassy service officer, gets involved in the case when Lisa¿s sister contacts him from America. When Tom begins an affair with Julia Tinsley, the wife of a CIA agent, Lisa Countryman¿s case becomes the highlight of their conversations. Once he learns this, he digs deeper into the case, not because he truly cares but because he wants to keep Julia interested....................... This book is not only about the mysterious vanishing of Lisa Countryman, it is also about race, gender, sex, and Japanese culture. The underlying theme of the Japanese¿s obsession with racial homogeneity is eye-opening and mind-boggling. The underground sex world is described in titillating detail. Author Don Lee, who also wrote ¿Yellow,¿ is a gifted writer who is best when taking a subject and rolling with it like in this passage:......................... ¿Kenzo had always been rail-thin, as was Yumiko, but Simon was fat. Roly-poly, flesh-bobbing fat. Trundling, waddling fat. Wheezing, heaving, lard-[expletive] fat. American fat. What had they been feeding him over there in Atlanta, Georgia? Kenzo could only imagine. Mounded, gelatinous meals, like chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, white biscuit gravy.¿....................................... Though some of the material may be considered offensive (Africans look like monkeys, Caucasians stink of dairy products, and lighter skin in considered better than a darker hue), it does not take away from the fact that this is an intriguing read. Reading ¿Country of Origin¿ is like riding a time machine to Japan¿s underworld in the late seventies and early eighties. ¿Country of Origin¿ is worth the read.

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