Kakutani savages Peter Carey

Michiko Kakutani savages Peter Carey’s new book on his travels through Japan with his son.

“Wrong About Japan” does not give the reader a tactile appreciation of manga or anime or any other aspect of Japan’s pop culture. It does not probe, save in the most superficial manner, the dynamic between East and West that informs much of that youth culture. And while it provides a couple of touching glimpses of Mr. Carey and his son, it does not delve into their relationship or their feelings about their joint trip. Instead, “Wrong About Japan” turns out to be a thoroughly cursory travelogue that feels as though it had been written on a tight deadline for an airline magazine.

A Father-and-Son Adventure to the Heart of ‘Japanese Cool’ [nytimes.com]


A review like this (Carey is a Booker Prize winner, no less) is depressing for a few reasons. It is yet another person who merely added to the noise and did not work to help to bridge the cultures. It seems to reinforce stereotypes about the “other”-ness of Japan. Nippon Goro Goro says

“This is probably one of the worst non-fiction books ever written about Japan in the post WWII era.”

2 comments on “Kakutani savages Peter Carey
  1. Kakyou says:

    I don’t know. I’m all for increasing communication, awareness, and overall universal enlightenment. Still I’m getting tired of people bashing any cross cultural endevor that falls short of these goals.
    If the authore goes out and says that the point of the book is to increase cross culture communication an understanding, then falling short of the goal merits criticism. But why can’t people just write what they want to without the burden of making the world a more harmonious society?
    When did it stop being acceptable to make a movie about Japan without having to single handedly dispel all racial stereotypes?
    Why can’t you write a book about travel in a foreign country and limit your insight to personal perspective. Since when is a writing about a road trip of a father and son without deep cultural insight not enough?
    I for one am all in favor of shallow, meaningless tripe that mankind has produced voraciously since the first caveman scrawled an anotomically incorrect image of the beast that ate his brother on a cave wall. Without all the crap, how can you recognize good literature? What’s a Monet in a world without a Velvet Elvis?
    At least that’s the opinion of a guy who thinks Dave Barry Does Japan is “the best fricking book on Japan ever!”

  2. Setsunai says:

    The review seems to criticize Carey on two fronts, one possibly valid (I haven’t read the book so I don’t know), the other definitely ridiculous.
    The possibly valid one is what Nippon Goro Goro probably took issue with: the claim that the book is a shallow and lazy attempt at understanding or describing Japan. Fair enough.
    The ridiculous one is best shown in the following passage:
    “Throughout this book, Mr. Carey and his son talk about their search for the “Real Japan.” They argue about whether that Real Japan is the Old Japan of temples, Kabuki and ancient samurai codes of honor; the Cool New Japan of whimsical fashions, postmodern video games and super-high-tech cell phones; or the Depressing Modern Japan of sprawling suburbs and conformity-minded salarymen. Their exchanges, however, never evolve into anything remotely resembling a real discussion.”
    I know the reviewer is probably trying to say “Look, never mind the Japan aspect, it’s not even a good book about Carey’s relationship with his son,” but for God’s sake, the son is only 12. How many exchanges with 12-year-olds has the reviewer had on the nature of foreign cultures that “evolved into real discussions”? The very fact that Carey and his son were talking about whether the old or modern Japan is more authentic qualifies for me as an advanced father-12-year-old son relationship and conversation.
    Not sure the reviewer needed to bother with the second line of criticism at all, unless he wanted to say the book’s structure (conversation between father and 12-year-old son) didn’t, by its very nature, allow a meaningful discussion on Japan to evolve.