The American in Japan is always a fish out of water --- in a society that values its traditions and then combines them in a strange and enforced way with new, more Western values and processes, the American never quite knows which end is up, what is the polite thing to do, what customs they should learn, and what they should ignore. Gaby has come to Tokyo to teach, finding a good university job that would have been unavailable to her in the West. However, thanks to some of those old-fashioned ideas about women that the Japanese have, Gaby is fired because she is an old maid and it is assumed that she will soon be thrown on the waste pile of women who don't end up in successful marriages, arranged or otherwise. It is only one of the obstacles she must face in her life in Japan.
Gaby takes a job at a company selling strange and exorbitant funeral exercises to depressed and rich Japanese businessmen, and it is there that she comes in contact with Alex, who has a receipt from that same company (called "Gone with the Wind") for his son's burial. Alex is the mourning dad of a dead Seattle exchange student searching for clues to his son's death the year before. Although he is a famous self-help author in the United States --- and is making speaking engagements around Japan as an excuse to do some sleuthing on his own --- Alex is treated with great disdain by the people he meets. Together, Gaby and Alex examine the many aspects of what it means to be an American in their situations, in a land where nothing is ever as it seems, where there is a surprise waiting around every corner. In working together, they learn a lot about the sexual and social difficulties of their unfinished complications, at home and abroad.
AMERICAN FUJI is a wondrously complex and compelling first novel with a strong, fully fleshed-out female protagonist. I kept imagining the movie in my head as I read, it was so perfectly orchestrated, in both the emotions it rendered and the physical capacity of the writing. AMERICAN FUJI is a powerful book and a stunning debut.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on March 15, 2001