Gajin is a captivating story about a young woman's journey to a foreign land to investigate the unsettling disappearance of her Japanese lover. Poetic and exquisite storytelling at its best. -- S. B. Bell, author of The Art of Redemption
In her new life in Japan, Sarah Z. Sleeper's protagonist Lucy is a fish out of water, and in over her head at the very same time. A candid, beautifully descriptive map of a young woman's changing emotional landscape. --Sally J. Pla, award-winning author of The Someday Birds
Sarah Sleeper's charming bildungsroman Gaijin-Japanese for "outsider"-tells the story of a naïve, young, Midwestern woman named Lucy. A bookish loner, inexperienced in the ways of the world or of the heart, she has a very short but intense "infatuation" with an exotic and worldly Japanese man named Owen Ota, whom she meets in her college English class. From Owen she develops an idealized picture of all things Japanese. The relationship, however, is complicated and, for Lucy, punctuated by emotionally odd behaviors on Owen's part; their courtship ends before it really begins when Owen returns suddenly and mysteriously to his home country. Obsessed with Owen, Lucy, the outsider, follows her heart and travels to Japan to find out his "secret." There she is confronted by ugly cultural realities, as well as unpleasant emotional ones, realities she wasn't prepared for. A nuanced, subtly written tale that reminds one of those Jamesian cultural clashes between ingenuous Americans and sophisticated foreigners, Sleeper's novel shows us how we are all, at heart, gaijin. A novel particularly relevant in today's highly charged xenophobic era. -- Michael C. White, author of Beautiful Assassin.
When Lucy, a young, American journalist seeking the truth about the sudden disappearance of her college boyfriend, moves to Okinawa, she gets more than she bargained for. Amidst large protests held over a lurid rape case involving an American military man and a young Japanese girl, everything Lucy thought she knew about herself, her past, and the world is upended. A veil is lifted and through the eyes of the Japanese, she sees her own foreignness. She becomes the gaijin, unwanted and alien, a stranger even to herself. Against a backdrop of tea ceremonies, lotus blossoms, haikus, and the gritty reality of the difficult history of American and Japanese relationships, Sarah Sleeper weaves her deftly told story of a young woman's memorable journey toward a greater understanding of the truths that inhabit our complex world. Written with a journalist's eye for detail and a commitment to the truth, Gaijin is an expansive, meaningful debut. -- Karen Osborn, author most recently of the novel The Music Book
In Sleeper’s debut novel, a young journalist travels to Japan in search of her troubled lover.
Lucy is a young woman who knows little of the world outside of books—she majored in both journalism and literature, “semi-expecting to become a reporter after college”—and she mostly keeps to herself. However, as she heads into her final year at Northwestern University in Illinois,she finds herself on a new path when her family fractures in the wake of her father’s sudden death. She also falls in love with a confident new Japanese student named Owen Ota and becomes fascinated by his home country. Owen tells her that he is a “gaijin”—a term for foreigner that some find derogatory—and even goes so far as to say that he feels out of place in his own family. Just as the college students’ relationship deepens, Owen suddenly returns to Japan, and after that, the two communicate little. Lucy becomes obsessed with finding him, and while working at the Chicago Sun-Times, she applies to be a reporter for a small newspaper in Okinawa, Japan. After she’s hired but right before she moves, she learns that Owen tried to kill himself before disappearing once again—adding yet another layer to his mystery. Sleeper’s novel is predominantly the story of Lucy's coming-of-age as she learns that the object of her obsession is far from the perfect man she imagines him to be. The author also shows how Lucy learns that reading about a foreign country doesn’t prepare an outsider for its complicated reality: “I wasn’t just a green reporter, I was a green person, a product of my insular suburban upbringing.” She uses the word senseiin reference to Owen, as she feels that he’s become her teacher in life; however, as the story goes on, the author gets across the sense that everyone Lucy encounters is her teacher, so deep is her naiveté. At times, the depiction of Lucy’s confusion can feel overly repetitive. However, by the end of the novel, Sleeper makes a strong case for adventure as the ultimate instructor.
A sometimes-frustrating but often effective bildungsroman.