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The Island of Bicycle Dancers


The Island of Bicycle Dancers

It is said that the best way to really learn a language is through
immersion. By relying on the language for your everyday survival,
you can completely internalize and understand it, and use idioms
and slang. In his novel THE ISLAND OF BICYCLE DANCERS, Jiro Adachi
builds on this basic idea and presents a tale not only of language
and culture but also of family, friendships, sexuality and

A unique take on both coming-of-age stories and immigrant stories,
Adachi's novel centers on Yurika Song, a twenty-year-old woman from
Japan who is in America for the first time, ostensibly to learn
English. An aimless, lazy young woman, Yurika finds herself in New
York City with her Korean relatives. Working at their convenience
store under the watchful eye of her resentful aunt, she begins to
learn American English from the customers and neighbors she meets
every day. She also becomes friends with a group of bicycle
messengers who frequent the store; she is fascinated by their slang
and attracted to their rebellious lifestyle. As she becomes close
with one messenger in particular, she is drawn to another one who
she often sees riding by.

Whitey, an eccentric messenger with a smile full of crooked teeth,
is immediately smitten by Yurika. She loves his use of language and
his openness. They become friends, and Whitey shows her a magical
New York City. However, as Whitey's feelings for Yurika grow
stronger and stronger, she begins a highly charged affair with
Bone, a messenger considered an outsider even within the messenger
subculture. As things between Yurika and Bone heat up and tensions
arise between them and Whitey, their misunderstood relationship is
the catalyst for tragic violence.

Suddenly Yurika's American experience is torn apart at the seams.
She must face painful loss amid growing family tensions. Just as
she must come to terms with the truth about her relationships with
both Whitey and Bone, she must finally confront the truth about her
choices in the past and her relationship with her family.

THE ISLAND OF BICYCLE DANCERS is full of interesting and
well-written characters. Yurika's culture shock in New York easily
could have overtaken the story, but Adachi wisely wrote her
emotional growth as the most important component of the story. The
book could also have been overcome with details, as there are
several interesting story lines --- but again, Adachi controls his
story and characters with a seemingly natural ease.

This novel is an enjoyable and unpredictable read. Yurika is
surrounded by many teachers who most unwittingly guide her in her
transformation from a selfish and unmotivated girl to a thoughtful
and driven woman. Her transformation does not happen easily; her
maturity and independence are hard-earned. Adachi is successful at
blending this realism into a story that is also concerned with the
magic and mystery of language.

Written with an uncommon sensitivity, Adachi's debut is all at once
about love, friendship, sex, language, family, immigration and
growing up. Yurika is a likeable though realistically flawed
protagonist, and is a great vehicle for Adachi's intelligent and
insightful style.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 22, 2011

The Island of Bicycle Dancers
by Jiro Adachi

  • Publication Date: February 1, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 0312312458
  • ISBN-13: 9780312312459