By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
By Jennifer K. Chung
3-Day Books, 2011
Daisy Wang’s older sister Samantha is getting married in three months, but things don’t look too promising as their Taiwanese parents are still shunning Sam’s white fiancé Patrick.
As a means of escape from the pre-wedding drama and her family’s scrutiny regarding her future, teriyaki connoisseur Daisy distracts herself by going on a search for a mysterious ever-relocating teriyaki food truck with a ghostly looking (and supposedly cursed) chef.
I really enjoyed reading about Daisy’s ongoing hunt for the teriyaki truck, as well as the reviews she writes on her blog about the different teriyaki joints she tries. This part was particularly fun because the story takes place in Seattle and Chung localizes it by setting Daisy’s food excursions in various neighborhoods and cities in the greater Puget Sound area, such as Ballard, Belltown, Southcenter, Renton, Issaquah, and Puyallup.
For local readers like me, this nod to the less “mainstream” areas of the Pacific Northwest will make you want to visit these areas to see if the restaurants really exist.
Despite her ongoing truck hunt and teriyaki tasting, Daisy does get pulled into the fold of Sam’s tumultuous relationship with their mother and does her best, albeit reluctantly, to be the moderator.
This type of situation is familiar as I’ve been in Daisy’s position myself, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed “Terroryaki!” so much.
Chung captures the Wang’s family dynamics very well, using humor as well as pain to highlight common issues, such as dealing with cross-cultural differences, living up to your family’s expectations, living with a “perfect” older sibling, and trying to find your way without disappointing others.
The Wangs are not perfect, but no family is and that’s what made the story relatable. And while they may have their issues and differences, Daisy’s family proves their strength and solidarity when the time comes and that’s something we can all wish for with our family.
“The Shadow of a Blue Cat”
By Naoyuki Ii
Dalkey Archive Press, 2011
At age 51, Japanese businessman Yuki Yajima is a husband and father of two daughters.
His oldest, Ryo, is 17 and his youngest, Yuka, is only two months old. As he reflects on how he became a father for the second time at his age, Yuki begins to remember his uncle, a man who died very young and whom Yuki idolized while growing up. Yuki’s reflections on his relationship with his uncle are interwoven with other stories from his past, as well as his present.
And while each of these narratives are from very different aspects of Yuki’s life — from how he landed his first job and eventually ended up opening his own business, to how he and his wife Asako dealt with a suddenly unhappy and rebellious Ryo — each one focuses on the human relationships.
This was one of the things I really enjoyed about “Blue Cat.” The stories could have easily focused on the events that happen to and around Yuki, but instead, they are more driven by how he and others around him react to these events.
Ii shows different types of relationships, from lovers and platonic friends, to families and coworkers.
He shows both sides as well, when things work out and when things fall apart.
Although “Blue Cat” is told from Yuki’s perspective, Ii paints a very complete picture of the other characters’ lives and the different family dynamics among them.
I thought this was important because it shows that there is no single way to be a family and no single mold will fit everyone. Some families break apart, while others stick together and some families that break apart may fit themselves back together.
“Please Look After Mom”
By Kyung-Sook Shin
In the middle of the afternoon, a woman gets separated from her husband, as they try to get on the subway at a station in Seoul. He makes it on the train, but the bustling crowd pushes her back and she misses it. He gets off at the next stop and takes the train back to the original station, but by the time he arrives, his wife is gone.
“Mom” is the story about one family’s frantic search for their missing mother. Told from various family members’ points of views, we get a glimpse into each of their relationships, with a woman in their life whom they had taken for granted. The narratives jump through different periods of the characters’ lives. In addition to their search for their mom, and it is clear that as the events unfold that they really didn’t know this woman as well as they’d thought.
The story actually begins in the second point of view, placing the reader into the fold immediately as the third oldest child and oldest daughter. I thought this was an interesting style, but it was effective as the constant use of “you” really made me feel as if my mother was actually missing.
What I liked about the story was how human all the characters are. They each have their idiosyncrasies and issues with each other. From not calling each other back to bringing up past arguments and transgressions, they are a real family with real problems.
And these problems don’t go away when their mom goes missing and they have to focus on finding her.
If anything, there are moments when things get worse, which is how it would happen in situations of high stress like this.
After their mom goes missing, the characters are forced to reflect on their relationship with her and in most cases, admit with regret that they didn’t always treat her the way they should have.
Readers will undoubtedly examine their own relationships with the mother figures in their lives as well, which I think is a good thing since mothers are often taken for granted. (end)
Samantha Pak can be reached at email@example.com.