According to the translation, toraware is the Japanese word for obsession. I wonder what the Japanese word for boring is, because almost all the characters in this novel are self-obsessed navel-gazers.
Harlan Cooper is an American who has served in Vietnam, been homeless in Seattle, and wandered through India. Now he is in Japan and has taken a position as a teacher in a conversation school – a place where Japanese students go to brush up on their spoken English. Harlan becomes involved with two Japanese women. Yoshiko is a young woman who has tried to commit suicide. She has spent some time in Canada and feels totally disconnected from her family and society in general. She drinks too much, is very promiscuous, yet has a very deeply spiritual side to her.
Sachiko is a young woman from an upper-class family who meets Harlan at the conversation school. She is trying to raise her score on her English test so she can go to graduate school in the United States. Sachiko looks on her relationship with Harlan as a sort of walk on the wild side on her part, and she really does not figure in the novel to any great extent.
Frankly, most of this novel consists of either Harlan, or Yoshiko, or Harlan and Yoshiko lying around smoking cigarettes, drinking beer and thinking about how rotten life is and how terrible they feel. The author spends lots of time telling us how the characters feel, but there is very little actual dialogue. None of the characters were at all sympathetic, and I never felt like I got to know anything about Japanese culture. I could only read so many pages where the characters did nothing but drink, smoke, and angst about life, the universe, and everything in it until I was ready to toss the book against the wall – which I did – several times.
I am sure that somewhere out there is a wonderful book about Japan and the difficulties faced by two people who are in love but come from very different cultures. Toraware is not that book.