In another first, I made an attempt at a book review.
Baye McNeil's first book, "My Name Is Loco And I Am A Racist" was, to me, an attempt to analyse the day to day annoyances of his life in Japan, trying to align them to the environment he lived in, and the one he grew up in. He came to some interesting conclusions, not all of which I agreed with, but his argument was strong and well made.
It was an interesting book to read, and as many others have said, not an easy one: His opening, even his title, was confrontational, and he pulled no punches thereafter. Tales of his childhood, his time in the army, and the events of 9/11 lead us to understand the mindset with which he framed Japan; and events while here that caused him to re-evaluate it. Any long term resident of Japan would definitely find some "Me Too!" moments, and some where we would want to take him to one side and say "Hang on a minute!" The only disappointment I found with his first book was that the earthquake and nuclear incident of March 2011 seemed to derail him, both in his own life and in his book's search for a resolution. I was expecting him to bring us to some grand unifying theory of why Life In Japan is the way it is for foreigners, but in the end it was his own life that he sorted out. But I found it poignant that while his eventual response to the 9/11 attacks in his home town was to leave, amid the chaos following the earthquake, his decision was to stay.
His second book is written in a similar style, which continues to be enjoyable. What is different, for me, is the way he describes events around him. His first book was mainly about the impact that his surroundings and upbringing had on him, but in his second volume we see him recount and analyse the impact he has on those with whom he interacts. His students, his co-workers, have more depth; his conversations with them are longer and more diverse. This makes it a much more pleasurable and, well, "human" story to read. We see a warmer side to the characters with whom he interacts, a stronger bond between him and those characters, and a more fulfilling result to many of his endeavours. I laughed a lot reading this book, my eyes teared up quite a few times, and more than once I stabbed the screen of my phone with my finger, declaring "Yes! Yes!", to mark a point where I finally found someone who agrees so perfectly with my own view of a topic.
Many years ago, I would go home about once a year. As my plane rose above Narita and the expanse of the Tokyo plain filled the window beside me, I would look down on the city beneath me, and begin to look back on the year that had passed, my achievements and failures. As Tokyo spread out below me, the faults, the cracks, the blemishes on its skin, all faded into the larger picture of the land that has become home. And while I knew that the day to day annoyances would continue, I would always conclude it had been a good year. I have learned from this, and I think Baye may have also, that if you examine every detail in life like the threads of a fabric, you will find many kinks and holes, but if you step back and view it in its entirety, you will see, and enjoy, the rich tapestry that life can be.
Baye's growth from his first book to his second mirrors in some ways my own experience here, and I am sure many other long timers will feel the same. If you enjoyed his first book, you will enjoy this one too. If you disagreed with its content, you will probably enjoy this one anyway. Give it a try.
After his first book, I was left with the feeling of wanting to debate the author, to argue the points he made until the wee hours, so that we both might learn from the experience. After reading his second book, I wanted to sit down with him, open a bottle of something children aren't allowed to drink, and share good stories till we have had our fill. Some day I hope to do so.
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