Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Review: Love in Translation

Summary: Stuck. That’s how 33-year-old aspiring singer Celeste Duncan feels, with her deadbeat boyfriend and static career. But then Celeste receives a puzzling phone call and a box full of mysterious family heirlooms which just might be the first real clue to the identity of the father she never knew. Impulsively, Celeste flies to Japan to search for a long-lost relative who could be able to explain. She stumbles head first into a weird, wonderful world where nothing is quite as it seems—a land with an inexplicable fascination with foreigners, karaoke boxes, and unbearably perky TV stars.

With little knowledge of Japanese, Celeste finds a friend in her English-speaking homestay brother, Takuya, and comes to depend on him for all variety of translation, travel and investigatory needs. As they cross the country following a trail after Celeste's family, she discovers she's developing "more-than-sisterly" feelings for him. But with a nosy homestay mom scheming to reunite Takuya with his old girlfriend, and her search growing dimmer, Celeste begins to wonder whether she's made a terrible mistake by coming to Japan. Can Celeste find her true self in this strange land, and discover that love can transcend culture? -- St. Martin's Griffin

I recently finished LOVE IN TRANSLATION by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, and I found that it was just a pleasure to read! The book is about Celeste a woman in her 30s who discovers that the key to her father's identity might exist in Japan. Since she's not really happy with her career or her boyfriend, she decides to drop everything and head there for some answers. Celeste not only finds answers to some very difficult issues, but she also learns a great deal about herself!

When this book first started and I was getting to know Celeste, my heart just went out to her. She never knew her father and her mother died when she was young. As a result, Celeste had grown up with foster families and never really felt as if she knew her place in the world. It was clear to me that she was in a relationship with a man that wasn't doing her any favors, and she was clearly lacking direction and self-confidence.

I am happy to say that as the book progresses, so does Celeste! When Celeste first arrives in Japan, she knows little about the Japanese culture or the language -- she most definitely feels like an outsider. However, she hears a Japanese song and it stirs up a unexplained feeling in her. It's almost as if she has an instant affinity with the song despite not understanding the lyrics. I think this was the first sign to me, as a reader, that she might actually "belong" in Japan. From this point in time, I was already attached to Celeste and I sincerely wanted her to be happy.

So... I was very excited when Celeste was willing to take chances (and I mean huge chances) in her life to find happiness. It was more than just leaving her boyfriend, country, and career though. Celeste actually followed her passions -- her love of music, finding her father, and falling in love with a man. By the end of the novel, Celeste has found not only her family, but she has also discovered a true sense of belonging.

After reading LOVE IN TRANSLATION, I am very eager to read Ms. Tokunaga's earlier novel MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT. Swapna at S. Krishna's Books really, really liked it and went so far as to say it was one of her favorite books of the year - and you know how good her recommendations are! I think one of the things that I appreciated the most in LOVE IN TRANSLATION was how the author brought Japan and the Japanese culture to life for me. If LOVE IN TRANSLATION is any indication, I am looking forward to the more of the same in MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT.

It is very obvious that Ms. Tokunaga has a love of Japan, but she also appears to have a vast understanding of the Japanese culture. Not only has she lived in Japan, but she has studied both the Japanese language and culture extensively. I admit that I know little if anything about the Japanese people and their customs, yet Ms. Tokunaga's writing allowed me to visualize and even understand so much about them. I especially loved how she paid attention to the smallest details because it made the book so much richer.

LOVE IN TRANSLATION would make an excellent book club discussion book! I wasn't able to find a reader's guide at this time, but I'll be sure to link to it if one becomes available. I don't think you need a readers guide to jump- start your meeting though. There are so many topics that are just ripe for discussion including family dynamics, love and relationships, personal development, a sense of belonging, and discovering one's passion.

I highly recommend LOVE IN TRANSLATION if you appreciate books about other cultures. In addition, I think many readers will enjoy the character development as well as the general themes of love and belonging. Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of this book.


Mary (Bookfan) said...

Midori by Moonlight has been on my TBR list forever and now I'll add Love in Translation. Nice review!

bermudaonion said...

This sounds right up my alley - I love books set in other cultures - especially when the cultures are so different from ours.

Wendy Tokunaga said...

A big "domo arigato" (thank you!) to you, Julie. :-)

S. Krishna said...

Thanks for the shout out! I really enjoyed this book as well. I love how Wendy weaves so much Japanese culture in - I felt like I learned a lot!

The Book Chick said...

This definitely sounds like my kind of book- I love reading about other cultures and the background story sounds interesting to boot! I'll have to check it out :) Thanks for the review!

April said...

This sounds so good and the cover is great! Wonderful review!

Gwendolyn B. said...

I've had MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT on my wish list for awhile, but I think this title might get read first. I recently read the memoir, JAPAN TOOK THE J.A.P. OUT OF ME and enjoyed it. I think I'd also enjoy a fictionalized story of an American's experience in Japan. Thanks for reviewing it!