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--Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Beautifully written, thoughtfully conceived...the writing resonates with authenticity...an impressive accomplishment."
--The Orlando Sentinel
"Authentic and appealing...a lovely, lyrical novel."
--The Philadelphia Inquirer
He has a hole in the heel of his left sock. I had not noticed it before, but with him kneeling, the bottoms of his feet sticking out behind him, no one could possibly miss it: a good portion of his heel is showing through the hole, and the whiteness of his skin makes a striking contrast to the dark blue of his sock. Yet his right sock looks brand new. Suddenly I realize that Eric must secretly favor his left leg, with its problem knee, when he walks, and I chalk up yet another question for my grandmother, one more to add to the list I have been compiling for her arrival. Did my rich and powerful grandfather, in whose presence the world cowered and bowed very low, secretly wreak havoc upon his footwear with his limp? And did she, too, want to swallow both a laugh and a lump in her throat when she saw how ridiculous was his exposed patch of heel?
"You've been on your knees--your bad knee--this whole time, waiting to propose?" I say at last.
"It's killing me," he says, not a bit sheepish, if anything proud.
"Come sit down," I say, patting the spot on the couch beside me. "I can't think, knowing you're in pain."
The bones of his knee click loudly as he straightens it, and he clambers to his feet with a measure of awkwardness. Taking a seat at a decorous distance from me, he says, "I know it hasn't been long--"
"--Just a year and a bit--"
"--but I'm sure," he says. He pauses and then he adds, in a voice so low I have to stoop to hear, "I'll always love you, you know. Scout's honor."
This whisper is so unlike his usual confident tone that I am struck with the strangeness of this scene. This is not the proposal I would have expected from him, for who would ever have guessed that Eric Lowenson would kneel in front of a woman clad only in her underwear, and pledge eternal devotion with one foot exposing a worn sock, and two fingers upheld in a childtime vow? He, the man who loves to stage meticulously planned pleasures: one evening, a fine silver bracelet presented with a flourish on the top of the Empire State Building, and another afternoon, my birthday, a bottle of wine, along with two glasses, hidden behind a bush (and, miraculously, still there) when we went rowing in Central Park. The only thing he forgot that afternoon was the corkscrew, a disastrous omission, as he cut his fingers so badly when he broke open the bottle that I ended up turning twenty-six in the emergency room.
"No ring," he says, mistaking the reason for my glance at his empty hands. "Sorry--this really was a spur-of-the-moment thing."
I shrug. "You do know, don't you, that I haven't forgotten Phillip," I say.
"I know. But you're almost there, right?" he says, and then answers his own question for me. "So it's not a big deal."
"And your family? After all, I know they're upset about me not being Jewish, and there's the Japanese thing. Plus my grandmother's coming soon, and she's--well, you know."
"Don't be silly," he says with some relief, on firmer ground here. "My family's going to have to like it, and once they meet you, they will like it, because they'll like you. And as for your grandmother ..." Waving away the monumental presence of the past with one clean sweep of his hand, he continues, "She's just an old lady. She hasn't been a geisha now for what--half a century?"
I nod absentmindedly, troubled, as I so often am with Eric, by a feeling that I am in the wrong story. As if I were a glass, Eric sees in me a future that mirrors his own. It is a world in which moths eat sweaters, bills are paid on time, and things are no more than what they seem; a place in which my grandmother, stripped of her geisha past, emerges looking gray, shriveled, harmless. What Eric will give me is a reason not to wait and watch by the window; what he offers is a band of gold that anchors me to earth, a talisman to prohibit old loves, no matter how dear, from coming back from the dead.
He sees in me a future that I myself could never see. But then again, my sight never has been very good.
"Okay," I say. "Thank you. It'd be good to marry you."
For the second time today, his eyes grow round. Startled, even thrown off-balance, he struggles visibly to maintain his smile for a moment, and I think, belatedly, that I spoke too simply and too soon, a girl accepting the offer of an ice-cream cone, a stroll in the park, an umbrella held over her in the rain. Eric quickly scratches at his arm again, troubled as well, perhaps, by a sense that I am not a part of his story.
But the moment passes, and soon we are kissing on the crackling, tearing pages of his newspaper, my novel tossed to the floor.
The bedroom is almost cool, the curtains still drawn from last night. Sitting on top I climax, as usual, long before he does. He reaches out and holds my hips still; his own movements slow and he pauses, as he sometimes likes to do in the middle of his lovemaking. "Let me look at you," he murmurs, and gathering my hair at its ends, he pulls it back until my throat extends and my back arches, to a degree just shy of pain.
All I can see is the ceiling, but I feel him place his hand on my exposed throat and clasp it for a moment, as if in preparation for a murder. Then he lets his hand slide slowly down my collarbone, over my breasts, my ribs, my stomach. "I can't believe you're all mine," he says, but there is a cockiness to his touch that belies the humility of his words. He releases my hair, then, and I bend my head forward again, to find him still absorbed in the contemplation of my body. It is a gaze of satisfaction, the conqueror surveying his loot, his proudly won land.
When I was an overweight teenager and my prospects of ever finding a boyfriend were depressingly dim, I never thought I would have a man who actively wanted me, let alone enough to gloat over my body.
"I am a lucky man," he whispers. I am silent, looking down at him, but he has begun moving with a passion I could not have foreseen, and he does not seem to care.
Afterwards we return to the living room and pick up my Jane Austen and his papers. But before I can start reading, he reaches out once more and gathers me to him. "Hey," he says into my ear, "now that we're engaged, can I call you Yukiko?"
With my face buried in his shoulder, I let my smile slip away. I abandoned my given name for good when I left high school, but Eric has wanted to call me by it ever since he saw my driver's license.
I consider telling him that I gave up the name because I did not enjoy being saddled by a three-syllable clunker that everyone pronounced wrong, no matter how often I explained that the second syllable should not be stressed. I ponder saying that for all that I would like to bear the same name as my grandmother, it is bad enough to have bone structure and hair that brands me as foreign on the streets of New York, let alone a name that does, too. I think of explaining that I hate that Yukiko means Snow Child in Japanese.
But I have presented these same points to him countless times before, and they have never worked yet.
"Are you sure you don't have an Asian-woman fetish?" I say, trying to keep my tone light, but in vain.
He pushes me away so he can peer into my face. "Are you going to start that again?"
I look away, deliberating the question.
He sighs. "I'm sorry I brought it up. I just prefer Japanese names, that's all. We're not going to fight just after getting engaged, are we?"
"But you know that those men who ask me out in coffee shops, and who always try to talk to me in Japanese, and secretly yearn to see me dressed in a kimono, would just so much prefer Yukiko to Kiki...."
"Stop it," he says. "I don't have an Asian-woman fetish, okay? I would never ask you to walk on my back, and I wouldn't--"
I freeze, stilled, momentarily, by the memory of a dark room with a crooked pool table, and a tall man I had fled from without a word. "What did you say?"
"I said I'm not going to ask you to--"
Quickly, before he can repeat that phrase, I stop him. "Ever heard of the expression 'one hundred and one ways'?"
He wrinkles his forehead. "It rings a bell," he says. "Why?"
I shake my head, and manage to keep my voice even. "Just something somebody told me once. I'll tell you about it sometime."
I reach out and draw him close again. My left hand is pressed against his back and as I slide my fingers across the smoothness of his skin, I imagine that I can feel the emptiness in the center of each of my fingertips. "Promise me," I say, my voice muffled against his shoulder. "Promise me you aren't attracted to me because I'm Japanese."
Again he draws back to look me in the face. His eyes, searching mine, move back and forth as Phillip's always did. He draws a deep breath in, and holds it. I count the seconds, waiting, expecting and dreading a lecture, but when he finally lets his breath out (... seven Mississippi ...), his voice is quiet. "I promise," he says. "What's gotten into you?"
"Nothing," I say. "I'm fine. Should we go out to dinner tonight, to celebrate?"
He nods. "But--"
I pick up the phone and drop it in front of him. "Here, make a reservation," I say, standing up and moving away before he has a chance to refuse. "I'll be right back."
1. Even if Phillip had come back, would he have been able to stay with Kiki? Was the idea of the inevitability of their parting part of what makes their relationship so romantic?
2. How does the fact that there are no real obstacles between Kiki and Eric make her feel about their relationship?
3. Why did the author wait until the very end to let us know that Kiki and Phillip had a "last encounter?" What does she try to do by holding on to this detail?
4. What, in the end, convinces Kiki to move on with her life and open up to people again?
5. What is the main conflict in the mother/daughter relationships in this book: between Kiki's grandmother and mother, and between her mother and Kiki?
6. Why did stories of Kiki's grandmother and her family hold such importance for Kiki?
7. The meeting of Kiki and her grandmother would have been a very dramatic climax for the book--it's what the book was leading up to. Why does the author choose not to have that happen?
Included in the web version only.
Does Eric take Kiki's needs seriously? Is this important to Kiki? Why or why not?
Is the idea of not recovering after the loss of a husband/boyfriend a romantic one for Kiki?
Why did her father leave--and stay out of touch with Kiki?
Posted February 18, 2003
It really it like Memoirs of a Geisha meets Ghost. I enjoyed her storytelling. I have to admit to being thrown off when in the first chapter she compares her boyfriend's face to his penis, but it fits her character to do so. My favorite line was "I fall asleep wondering if this is the way balloons make love." It has stuck with me and I am definitely going to read her new release this summer. :o)Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 26, 2001
¿One Hundred And One Ways¿ is an awesome book in that it deals with the turbulent relationships of Mothers and Daughters spanning three generations. You are left with so many feelings in this book, from the many Mother-Daughter silent moments that speak a million words, to the awkward feelings between lovers. I was so moved with Kiki's ability to deal with her deceased lover and was happy to see her finally deal with her current love. Kiki was also brutally honest about her sexual encounters. This book left me thinking about my own relationships and how I should perhaps confront them with such honestly. I have always been intrigued with the lives of Geishas and this book touches lightly on this mesmerizing way of life. Anyone who reads this book will be profoundly moved in many ways.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 23, 2000
An original coming of age tale and a perceptive reflection of what it means to be a Japanese American are the twin buttresses of One Hundred and One Ways, an impressive debut novel by Mako Yoshikawa. Choosing as her setting a rampantly vigorous New York City, the author has crafted an exceptional story of three women whose lives are irrevocably intertwined. By deft use of telling flashback and revelatory conversation Ms. Yoshikawa seamlessly conjoins the past experiences of our narrator, Kiki, a 26-year-old American university student, her mother, Akiko, who lives alone in a well appointed New Jersey home, and her grandmother, Yukiko, a former geisha still in Japan, a woman Kiki has never met but longs to know. Their mutuality rests in each losing the first man she loved. As Kiki, writes: 'In my family, being haunted by a lost love is not even news. I come from a line of women with a tenacious grip on the man in their lives.' More literally haunted than her forebears Kiki finds herself living with a ghost - the wraithlike specter of her dead lover Phillip who appears unbidden 'crouching in a fetal position under my desk, and he enjoys folding his long body into an improbably tiny package so he can fit into the fireplace....' Now engaged to Eric, an up-and-coming young attorney, Kiki finds herself torn by a desire to be what Eric wishes her to be and the continuing grief she feels after Phillip's sudden death. His phantasmic appearances serve only to exacerbate her confusion and sorrow. Seeking respite from ever growing uncertainty, Kiki eagerly anticipates a Thanksgiving visit from her grandmother, the older woman's first trip to the United States and, hopefully, a time of reconciliation for Akiko and Yukiko who have been estranged for a number of years. 'I have been hoarding questions to ask my grandmother Yukiko,' Kiki writes. 'These questions start out to be about her life, and then turn out to be about my own.' The affinity Kiki feels for her grandmother is deeper than a blood tie: '....there is a bond that connects my grandmother to me. It is not our physical resemblance that draws us together, nor does it matter that we share the same name. I know that our similarities run deeper than that, for I have thought long and hard about the key to our secret kinship, and it is this: what a geisha is to Japan, a Japanese woman is to America.' That thought is at the heart of this engrossing, magnetic tale. Ms. Yoshikawa, descended from a long line of samurai and the great-granddaughter of a geisha, has created characters for whom we care and will remember. One Hundred and One Ways introduces a thoughtful, provocative new voice to the annals of American fiction.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 3, 2000
I couldn't put this book down. Almost every chapter had me sobbing or laughing. For a first time author, Yoshikawa has definately created a masterpiece.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.