Title: If You Follow Me
Author: Malena Watrous
Publisher: Harper Perennial (Harper Collins)
Release Date: March 9, 2010
"I am kind of so sorry."
"You have committed a rude."
The use of the above accented English is just one way in which Malena Watrous, debut author of If You Follow Me, transports her readers to Japan where 22-year-old Marina has moved with her girlfriend, Carolyn, to teach for a year. Carolyn and Marina meet each other at a grief support group after Marina's father committs suicide. They are disappointed to find they have been assigned to schools in the Japanese countryside rather than in the city of Tokyo where they requested. Nevertheless, they immerse themselves in the Japanese culture -- though some of the immersion is involuntary. In the beginning of the novel they constantly find themselves in trouble with an unexpected cultural norm -- for not separating their garbage correctly and putting the different types of garbage out on the correct days.
As they learn to deal with the garbage issue (gomi) and other cultural roadblocks they come across, they also grow individually. (Although I will say at one point I thought "enough with the gomi!" LOL). But the amount of time spent on the gomi issue only enhanced the understanding of the cultural attitudes to which Marina had to learn to adjust. Meanwhile, Marina hoped her relationship with Carolyn would grow stronger by moving to Japan together. This is despite having to keep their relationship a secret, due to the more stringent attitudes of the Japanese culture. But somewhere along the line their relationship starts to fall victim to the same pitfalls of so many relationships.
I really saw this book as hardly about Carolyn at all. It was more about Marina and her own growth as a person and learning who she is. She spends the entire novel learning how to deal with the unexpected death of her father. Her time spent assimilating to the Japanese cultural is almost therapeutic in that it helps her reflect on her life as a whole and what her father's death means in it all.
The book is broken up into 4 parts. Each part represents a season of the year she is there, and, in a way, it represents another level of growth Marina has made. Ms. Watrous expertly writes about many of the nuances of the Japanese culture but does so by inserting these mannerisms into the characters. The writing was beautiful and in no way reflective of a new author. But then Ms. Watrous isn't new to writing. She has an extensive history of writing stories, essays, and book reviews. (Check out her website for details). Her characters, specifically Marina, were very real and genuine. I never felt that anything was contrived, and Marina's growth as a person throughout the novel seemed authentic. Comedic moments combined with somber reflections throughout and created an honest portrayal of humanity and of people trying to understand each other's differences.
And you can't ignore the beautiful cover!! I also want to quote an author who provided her thoughts on the book because I don't quite feel that my more amateur writing ability adequately sums up the essence of this book.
Curtis Sittenfield, author of Prep and American Wife says "It's fearlesly honest, ocasionally heartbreaking, and extremely funny..."
The synopsis on the back of the book also calls If You Follow Me "a dark comedy of manners." I thought both of these quotes described this book perfectly.
So, in summary, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and thought it was very well done. Marlena Watrous has proven to be an excellent author in writing, storytelling, and character depictions, and I can't wait to read more by her.
Stay tuned for an interview with Marlena Watrous about If You Follow Me and her writing in general!
Connie at Constance Reader
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