Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Houston has all the luck, piggy-backing a trip to Japan on his wife's research project; visiting his daughter when she gets a job on Saipan, one of the Mariana islands; traipsing from Hawaii, around Indonesia through Bali. The image of him that emerges from this travelogues is that of a man who has spent much of his life on the West Coast musing about what lies beyond the ocean. Musing, but not studying. Houston (Continental Drift) takes a very impressionistic, once-over-lightly approach to the exotic locales he visits. There is a little description (especially of baths, which he seems to like most of all) and reporting on the occasional quaintly weird custom like talking to rocks in Hawaii, and blessing metal objects in Bali. In theory, the book is defined by the metaphor of tectonic instability, but in fact it seems strained, adding little by way of cohesion or illumination. Houston favors lists of meaningfully juxtaposed nouns or runs of unanswerable questions ("What do such places speak to? In their silence what do we hear? Why is primal landscape so compelling?... The rocks are us."), but a little goes a very long way and soon it seems more portentous than profound. There are also some vexing stereotypes, whether the resigned savant ("his eyes gaze into mine, merry, ancient, boyish, dark and innocent, the vulnerable sage.") or the clich of the Japanese R-L switch ("Mona Risa, Mona Risa, men have name you. You so rike a raydee wis a mystic smire..." ). One can't help feeling that while Houston had a grand opportunity and probably enjoyed it too, he didn't bring enough of it back for us. (May)
Houston (coauthor of Farewell to Manzanar, 1973) sets out on a journey around the Pacific Rim to explore the historical and cultural connections among the various countries and islands that surround the world's largest ocean. Along the way, he stops at Japan and the islands of Okinawa, Iwo Jima, and Ie-Jima; Jakarta and Bali in Indonesia; Saipan and Tinian in the Mariana Islands of Micronesia; Honolulu and Big Island in Hawaii; and his native California. Houston was drawn on this quest to look "for ways to see my family and homeland with clearer eyes," and in this richly anecdotal text he succeeds admirably. Recommended for all libraries.William L. Wuerch, Micronesian Area Research Ctr., Univ. of Guam
A delightful account of an idiosyncratic odyssey through island outposts in the world's largest ocean with the observant, low-key novelist Houston (Love Life, 1985, etc.) as an unfailingly congenial tour guide.
In company with his Nisei wife, Jeanne Wakatsuki, Houston headed first to her parents' homeland. Sojourning in Ibusuki (a part of Kyushu, which a local returning from the US refers to as "the Alabama of Japan") and later in Fukuoka (one of but four cities to host championship sumo wrestling tournaments), he finds himself wondering whether the island nation's backcountry is "too strange and perhaps more trouble than it's worth." Before Houston presses on alone, however, he and his wife make contact with friends of friends who renew their faith in the cultural and other ties that bind all peoples who live on the Pacific Basin, including those who, like the Houstons, are residents of America's West Coast. In Hawaii, he seeks out a woman who talks with rocks (volcanic or otherwise), an honored vocation in a venue where the legacies of Polynesia survive and thrive. Westering on, the author lights in Indonesia (where a native son lately back from L.A. shares rules of the road for traffic-jammed Jakarta) and Bali (whose Edenic setting belies its troubled history). Covered as well on Houston's overwater trek are the Marianas (Tinian as well as Saipan, where his daughter works at a resort catering to Asians on holiday) and the Ryukyus (Iwo Jima, Okinawa, et al.), where the ghosts of WW II can still disturb the sleep of visitors.
Good old-fashioned travel writing of the sort that combines personal observations on faraway places with astute commentary on what connects their past, present, and future.