Another Review of Todd Shimoda’s OH! A Mystery of Mono no Aware (Chin Music Press, 2009).

 Another Review of Todd Shimoda’s OH! A Mystery of Mono no Aware (Chin Music Press, 2009).

The first review in this community of Todd Shimoda’s fascinating novel can be found here:

 

http://community.livejournal.com/asianamlitfans/62453.html

 

My immediate impression of the book is an appreciation for its highly interdisciplinary aesthetic.  The production values for Shimoda’s novel are first rate and it is very clear that much attention was paid to the visual experience of the narrative inasmuch as the written plot.  I agree very much with <lj user=pylduck>’s estimation of the book as being akin to some of the collaborative poetry collections of Mei-mei Berssenbrugge.  I think more generally the issue of collaboration has been glossed over in critical estimations of Asian American literature. 

 

I won’t refer again to Shimoda’s career or the plotting of the novel as the previous reviewed has already completed an excellent summation of the main points.  I do very much appreciate though the narrative pull that leads the readers onward.  Zack Hara develops a really unique relationship with a professor while living in Japan, who provides Zack with a number of mini-adventures related to the exploration of “mono no aware,” the keen sense of loss that Zack does not seem to be able to relate to or understand.  In this regard, the novel seems to be very much invested in the ways that Zack seeks to move out of an emotional stuntedness that is emblematized most carefully by his brief and desultory relationships with women.  Shimoda sets the novel’s spatial trajectory vividly and we get a sense of the various cities and villages that Zack eventually travels to and explores.  Each location becomes a terrain upon which the protagonist can investigate various philosophical musings.  As the novel moves more firmly into its various mysteries, the pace picks up and we are left with a cliffhanger conclusion that is supposed to be unraveled through a careful consideration of the visuals that have been included.  The images that do appear in tandem with the text often are incorporated in the space between the short chapters; in this regard, the reader is forced to look back and try to make sense of them in a different way.   The “mystery” then unfolds in the artistic vision that Linda Shimoda provides.  The very careful and organic union of art and fiction adds much to the texture and the success of this work.  I am also reminded of the continuing transnational valences of Asian American fiction, having just reviewed Mary Yukari Waters’s The Favorites and having taught some fiction by the short story writer Shimon Tanaka.  In this regard, Shimoda’s novel continues to flesh out the contemporary Japanese terrain from a Japanese American perspective.   Zack is certainly interesting because as a Japanese American he possesses a complicated perspective of one who can sometimes “blend” in with others, but also finds himself strangely unmoored regardless of his relative linguistic proficiency.  At various times, we see him either get mistaken for a “native” Japanese and at other times, as a Japanese American.  This liminal space is key to enfiguring the complicated psychic terrain that Zack inhabits, one that is increasingly problematic to him as the novel moves forward.

 

I would highly recommend this book simply for its production value; Chin Music Press has made it a point to reconstruct the “novel” into a multifaceted experience.  Of course, I think it would add much to any Asian American literature course or for any American literature course more generally; I think for myself I could see it easily as a match to the experimental impulses that we have seen, especially with the inclusion of art into literature.  A course for instance could start with Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee, move to a strong poetic sequence with Mong-lan and Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, and conclude perhaps with Todd Shimoda’s Oh!  The course could also incorporate graphic novels, such as Mine Okubo’s work, David Kirk Kim, Gene Luen Yang, Lynda Barry, and Shaun Tan.  I think it would be really fun =)

 

Here some other reviews and interviews related to the Book:

 

http://www.redroom.com/blog/wendy-nelson-tokunaga/interview-todd-shimoda-author-oh-a-mystery-mono-no-aware

 

http://www.villagebooks.com/event/todd-shimoda-oh-mystery-mono-no-aware

 

http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/entertainment_books_blog/2009/06/review-and-signing-todd-shimodas-oh.html

 

Buy the book Here:

 

http://chinmusicpress.com/

I do especially like how much attention Chin Music Press puts on the novel as a book. It reminds me a bit of those early, early novels like Tristam Shandy that actually also were "experimental" with the book/novel form in terms of playing with the page. Or of contemporary authors like Robert Antoni who put visuals in the novel text that really provocatively push the meaning of the narrative as well as the experience of reading a novel (one of his novels has a reflective page in the middle--a mirror).