Review of Kyoko Mori’s “Polite Lies”

I loved Kyoko Mori’s commitment to honesty, even when that meant blackening the eyes of people in her family. I don’t always approve of this kind of behavior. Hemingway did it with people in his life. The book is about rejecting polite lies for the sake of honesty. Honesty can be a release. It can be freedom, but it always comes with a price. Honesty is also destructive…it lays bare the cruelty of the world and the corruption that eats at our relationships. Polite lies can be our defense against barbarity. Polite lies help us stomach the world.

 

I empathized deeply with many of the themes of this book. It’s always seemed true to me that our childhood traumas never go away. We take them into adulthood with us and they form what kind of adults we are. As I was reading this book, it seemed to me that Kyoko Mori was also trying to make her mother speak. She was struggling to give her a voice that she never had…It also seemed as if she wanted to permanently silence her father. This seemed a bit cruel, but this cruelty is born from an honest loathing. I can empathize with that loathing. The character of her father comes off as a cheap parody of paternalism and patriarchy – and yet as a cheap parody of paternalism and patriarchy, I can see this character clearly (I tried to write this character, the character named Chuck, in my own novel, The Ghosts of Nagasaki). Japan isn’t the only world where destructive patriarchy rules.

 

The world sees little more than a winner, a benign petty king or diamyo, a leader bearing terrible burdens. Meanwhile, his male privilege leads him to cheat on his wife, cheat on his girlfriend, neglect his children and beat his daughter. And now, by airing these grievances out publicly, by saying in her most honest moment that you, father, are nothing but patriarchal stereotype and buffoon, she is having her revenge. I’m sure it was tough to be Chuck…I mean whatever the dad’s name was…they’re all used car salesmen and petty bullshit artists named Chuck in my mind…long hours at the office, being friendly with all those clients…and it wasn’t his fault that he was born into a man’s world where that was how the game was played, a jovial laugh for every unfunny joke, and a mandatory slap on the butt of the nearest waitress (How else were you supposed to succeed?)…he just played the game better than most…and yet still, let the caricature die…kill the paternalist stereotype if you have to, let it choke on its own excess, as it eats up the vomit of its own exaggeration. Could she have written the character of her father more sympathetically? Maybe, but why…we see now more than ever that it is exactly how it’s written. The stereotype just gets worse with each grotesque iteration.

 

Everyone’s story deserves to be heard. Everyone has a perspective. We should listen to the other side of the story…enough polite lies. No. We will not listen to father’s side. This was Kyoko Mori’s way of resisting her father’s sh***y patriarchal rule. His absurd cruelty. Mori cannot be effective if she is not cruel. So, be a feminist Hemingway. Do to men what Hemingway did to women…and don’t apologize.

 

For Kyoko, silence is the worst kind of lie because it gives the sense that things are alright when they could be all wrong. It gives a sense of legitimacy to things that are happening around us…those who are silent, tacitly consent.

 

The book ends on an interesting note…a romantic vision of the author dreaming about her hometown. For her, Kobe was a miserable place with miserable memories, and yet, she can’t help but dream of it. That is a very honest notion of home…it’s the place we can’t help but love despite everything.

 

Kyoko says toward the end of the book, “We mean so many things by home.” She’s right. Whenever I read a good book I feel at home. Whenever I think of the coast of Nagasaki, I feel at home. Whenever I hear a child laugh, I think of my dad and how he could make me smile almost at whim…and I feel at home. I hope this book makes you think of home, reader. I hope you read this book and reflect on home deeply like I did.

 

So, I leave you with this line by Kyoko Mori, “I keep coming home to books just as my dreams bring me back to the expanse of blue water.”

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