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In her "hilarious and heartbreaking" debut novel (Library Journal), Lois-Ann Yamanaka introduces the world to Lovey Nariyoshi, who comes of age in a working-class Japanese American family living in Hilo, Hawaii. Lovey longs to live in a "haole" (white) neighborhood and have "straight blond hair and long Miss America legs." 288 pp. Author tour. National ads. 35,000 print.
Lovey Nariyoshi is the descendant of Japanese agricultural workers who emigrated to Hawaii two generations earlier to work in the sugar cane plantations. Her dominant emotion is shame, which Yamanaka unearths in great detail. Even the very language Lovey speaks at home -- a pidgin English dialect that is the lingua franca of agricultural migrants and workers in the Pacific Islands -- is belittled by her teachers. Lovey experiences this contempt of her language as contempt for her. Because the novel is written in this dialect, the narrative itself becomes an act of defiance and liberation.
Lovey is also ashamed of her family's second-hand, make-do existence, which the other children ridicule. "Next Daddy going tell us eat dirt for dinner because good for our body and you going believe him," Lovey complains to her sister. "He take us to the dump and tell us thass treasures and you believe. Not me. I ain't being dumb no mo."
In vivid and often violent vignettes, Ms. Yamanaka describes Lovey's defeats and triumphs as she learns to celebrate her origins and her individuality. Yamanaka has created memorable characters who inspire Lovey: her open-hearted, coarse, and vulnerable father Hubert; her best friend Jerry; and angelic, tragic Crystal, Lovey's tutor whom she idolizes. This exotic coming-of-age novel culminates on a moving note of reconciliation. -- Salon
"Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers has power and charm. A bold and skillful combination of languages . . . [it] belongs on the shelf near Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye."—Literary Supplement Quarterly
"Yamanaka's voice is clear and distinct, capturing the people and events in sensitive and exciting language. . . . An important and memorable debut."—San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle
"Yamanaka, true to her poet's ear, communicates the luminous dignity of the language [pidgin]. . . . Because of Yamanaka's uncompromising skill at evoking the special flavor of Hawaiian life, Lovey, Jerry, Hubert—even no-good Larry—are some of the most vivid characters to spring off a page in recent memory."—Time Out New York
"Funky and vibrant . . . A coming-of-age tale of exceeding charm."—Elle