Desert Isle Keeper
One Hundred and One Ways
Mako Yoshikawa’s debut novel is exquisite. Here is a tale of a modern, young Japanese-American woman’s search for truth, presented as a tapestry interwoven with luminous threads of emotion, sensuality, and human connections in a world in which joy seldom comes without its measure of pain. This is not a romance, although it is certainly romantic, but it touches at the root of what it means to be a woman, and what it means to truly love.
Although Yukiko Takehashi bears her grandmother’s name, their lives are very different. Kiki, as she insists on being called, grew up in New Jersey, and is now an independent woman working in New York City. She has suffered a traumatic loss in the death of Phillip, her friend/lover, and now, eighteen months later, is surprised by the sudden proposal of her current lover, Eric. Kiki is haunted by the presence of Phillip, visible only to her in her apartment, but this is not the real problem. Her conflict is summed up in the last sentence of the first chapter: “How strange to run smack up against a happily-ever-after ending, when here I had been thinking that my story’s just begun.”
Eric is everything Phillip was not, and everything that others would guess to be just right for Kiki. He is handsome, magnetically charming, responsible, and successful as a New York lawyer. He is also touchingly vulnerable, and in his own way needs Kiki. Kiki knows that it is time to move on from mourning Phillip, but her inner conflicts demand resolution, and she cannot completely put her doubts to rest. Will Eric rescue her from living death, or would marrying him merely mean death of a different kind?
This is a story of questions, with few answers other than those it pulls forth from the reader’s heart. Kiki is haunted by more than her dead lover; she is haunted by her mother and her grandmother. She is haunted by her Japanese heritage, and her fear of only being desired because she is Asian. Kiki’s grandmother is to visit America for the first time in just three months, and Kiki has spent years compiling questions to ask her when they finally meet. Questions about her grandmother’s life as a geisha, and about love, loss, and family. Questions about the myth of exoticism that hangs over Asian women, even Asian-American women. Questions meant to bring to Kiki answers that will heal her soul and help her chart her own future.
Kiki tells her own story, and interweaves the stories of her mother and her grandmother. They are three generations of Japanese women – so different, yet still alike. Kiki struggles to understand the forces that shape each of their lives, and to find her own path in the understanding. This story is about real life, and therefore has few definite answers or endings, but Kiki does find some of her own answers, and hope for the future.
This is a book to be savored. Although not lengthy, I found I wanted to take this story in small sips, with time to ponder the underlying meaning in each story segment. Rich in image and detail, and poetic in language, here is a feast for the senses. Though death is a prominent theme, the emotions explored are vibrant and alive.
Readers whose tastes run to action and tidy endings will likely not be satisfied with One Hundred and One Ways. But for those who enjoy exploring the emotion of life, pondering the unanswerable questions of existence, and delighting in the beauty of language to be found in literary fiction, here is a story that will feed the soul.