Last year Michael Crichton's Rising Sun depicted Japan as the U.S.'s economic enemy and set off a xenophobic frenzy. Hamill's ( The Invisible City ) modest collection of 13 short stories has the opposite effect, making that distant culture seem eerily close to ours. His simple themes of love, loss, longing and deception are joined to powerful emotions, and reveal a psychological bond between the two countries. The central characters--both Japanese and American--are at the crossroads of the two cultures: a Tokyo reporter at her first English-language interview encounters a blind blues singer; a visiting WW II vet runs head on into an old heartbreak; a Japanese boy turns desolate without the friends he had before his father died, when they all lived in Louisiana; an aging baseball star, the designated gaijin on a Japanese team, learns an unexpected lesson from the native coach. Hamill has reached into seemingly disparate subcultures within each country--blues, samurai, baseball, yakuza--to craft moments of striking self-recognition. His spare, simple prose seems, in this context, to owe as much to such Japanese influences as flower arranging and haiku as it does to his muscular journalism and masculine fiction. But his fine accomplishment in this volume is to make the two influences appear to spring from the same source. While the stylistic simplicity can occasionally seem reductive (from time to time, he waves the emotional semaphores of sports stories), the pieces more often are gently, consciously restrained, and the overall effect is very strong. (Mar.)
History has brought Japan and the United States together in a complex, often uneasy relationship. In these 13 subtle, well-told tales, Hamill finds the Japanese-American relationship rife with ironies both gentle and tragic. A few stories probe painful wartime memories, including ``The Past Is Another Country,'' in which an aging U.S. industrialist detects long-held resentment beneath a Japanese offer to invest in his company. Others examine fresher wounds. ``A Blues for Yukido'' alternates humor and poignancy as it chronicles a young Japanese journalist's fumbling attempt to interview a legendary U.S. musician. ``Running for Home'' depicts a African American player's head-on confrontation with Japanese baseball. At their best, these stories may help bridge the cultural divide they so ably document. Recommended for most collections.-- Law rence Rungren, Bedford Free P.L., Mass.
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Meet the Author
From his days as a crack reporter (who incredibly rose to the editor-in-chief post of both rival dailies The New York Post and The New York Daily News) to his novels like the sweeping Manhattan epic Forever, Pete Hamill keeps his typing fingers on the pulse of the city he calls home.
Throughout his colorful career as a writer, New York City has been a constant backdrop and inspiration for Pete Hamill -- from his success at several New York newspapers and magazines to his look back at A Drinking Life to his latest sweeping novel about a man gifted with immortality in the city he calls home: Forever.
Born in Brooklyn in 1935 as the first of seven children to Irish immigrant parents, Hamill attended Catholic schools throughout his childhood. More in tune with the city streets than the schoolroom, he dropped out at 16 to labor in the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a sheet metal worker, and from there signed up with the U.S. Navy, where he was able to eventually complete his high school education. The G.I. Bill of Rights helped him gain admission to Mexico City College in 1956-1957, where he was a student of art and design.
While Hamill fell in love with Mexico (and would eventually come to consider it his second home), his interest in design brought him back to New York to study at Pratt Institute. However, in 1960, he made the fateful career move that would change his life: taking a job as a beat reporter for The New York Post. Hamill's pavement-pounding work made him a crafty chronicler of city life -- from the grimy streets of the crime beat to the chaotic uprisings of the 1960s -- and he graduated to columnist. Soon after, he made the slightly scandalous move to the Post's rival paper, The New York Daily News. Perhaps one of Hamill's most intriguing achievements in New York journalism is the fact that he served as editor-in-chief of both papers -- the city's two most notoriously competitive dailies.
Hamill's nonfiction books have resonated with readers craving more than a few column inches. His 1994 memoir, A Drinking Life, was, as Publishers Weekly noted, "not a jeremiad condemning drink... but a thoughtful, funny, street-smart reflection on its consequences." Turning his attention to other lives, Hamill has also written tributes to idols Frank Sinatra (1998's Why Sinatra Matters) and Mexican painter Diego Rivera (1999's Diego Rivera).
Hamill has also enjoyed critical and commercial success as a fiction writer. His 1997 novel, Snow in August, was an instant New York Times bestseller. On the gritty coming-of-age story, the Times observed, "Mr. Hamill has told versions of this story many times, in fiction and journalism. But in his new novel...Mr. Hamill adds magic. Hamill is not a subtle writer, but his gift for sensual description and his tabloid muscularity fit this page turner of a fable."
2002's Forever brings Hamill's street smarts and near-encyclopedic knowledge of New York City together with his gift for spinning a story. Perhaps his most ambitious work yet, the novel traces the history of Manhattan through the eyes of a man who has watched it unfold for the better part of two centuries -- thanks to an otherworldly wish he is granted. It's likely Hamill's secret wish as well.
Good To Know
Since the 1950s, Hamill has had a keen interest in Mexico and considers it his home away from home. As a reporter, he covered the events in Tlatelolco in 1968, the Olympic Games that followed, and a major earthquake in 1985. For six months in 1986, he served as editor of The Mexico City News.
He is married to Japanese journalist Fukiko Aoki and has two grown daughters -- one a poet, the other a photographer for the Arizona Republic in Phoenix.