The secret life of a Japanese-American pharmacist in a small town in New York. On the surface a model of propriety and serenity, he is torn by memories of his service in the Japanese army in World War II and the comfort woman he loved and could not save. By the author of Native Speaker.
The title comes from Sunny, Doc Hata’s adopted daughter, who accuses her father of living an empty life, devoted to the maintenance of standard conventions, filled with empty gestures that do nothing to commit the inner man emotionally to anyone.
By the end of the novel, when events force Hata to re-evaluate himself upon Sunny’s unexpected return with her son, Hata takes bold steps that leave some hope for his emotional redemption, but not much.
Lee’s tone in this novel is restrained, quiet, and emotionally dry, reflecting his narrator’s personality. The details are small and telling as the details of decoration in a classic Japanese home. Lee creates a novel whose action sprawls across two continents and decades of time, but seems to take place in no greater space than a single room in a matter of days, which is practically the case of the “real” setting and time. Claustrophobic atmosphere, artistic prose, deeply flawed hero, explosive secrets combine to equal an excellent read.
In some sense, it confirms my opinion of Japanese as being very concerned with maintaining right relations with community, of meeting one's duty, of self abnegation before offending others.
Lee explores many themes in this book, identity (racial and social), what makes up a life?-is it one that you set up as a window display, or is it one that you actually live and experience without thought of the consequences, and of course it is about relationships; father-daughter, friendships, and romantic love.
I would recommend this book to people who enjoy reading excellent writing, and it would make a good book club selection to explore and discuss the many themes and Hata’s character. This is a book that will no be everyone’s cup of tea though.