Searching for the Language of Home in “An I-Novel”

Leanne Ogasawara in the Chicago Review of Books:

An I-Novel by Minae Mizumura is an immigrant story turned on its head. In traditional tales, a foreign-born young person arrives on American shores unable to speak the language but grows up to become a great success. An I-Novel, instead, is about two Japanese sisters in America who long to go “home.” But what does “home” even mean? Arriving in Long Island when they are in middle school, they are too old to become native speakers but too young to clearly remember the home they left behind. Without their memory, the word “home” is a stand-in for something else.

The older sister, Nanae, navigates this new world by trying to blend in. While most girls in Japan in the late 1960s preferred skin-whitening cosmetics and dressed demurely, Nanae enjoys tanning her skin and wearing miniskirts. But she still hopes to satisfy her parents by marrying a “real” Japanese man. Years later, when she meets her fiancé’s traditional parents in Tokyo for the first time, she wears heavy eye makeup and a flashy outfit, and proceeds to pull out a cigarette. That trip “home” ends in a suicide attempt when she is rejected by the boy and his family.

More here.