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Wrong About Japan

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The recipient of two Booker Prizes, Peter Carey expands his extraordinary achievement with each new novel-and now gives us something entirely different.
When famously shy Charley becomes obsessed with Japanese manga and anime, Peter is not only delighted for his son but also entranced himself. Thus begins a journey, with a father sharing his twelve-year-old's exotic comic books, that ultimately leads them to Tokyo, where a strange Japanese boy will become both their guide and judge. Quickly the visitors plunge deep into the lanes of Shitimachi-into the "weird stuff" of modern Japan-meeting manga artists and anime directors; painstaking impersonators called "visualists," who adopt a remarkable variety of personae; and solitary "otakus," whose existence is thoroughly computerized. What emerges from these encounters is a far-ranging study of history and of culture both high and low-from samurai to salaryman, from Kabuki theater to the postwar robot craze. Peter Carey's observations are always provocative, even when his hosts point out, politely, that he is once again wrong about Japan. And his adventures with Charley are at once comic, surprising, and deeply moving, as father and son cope with and learn from each other in a strange place far from home.
This is, in the end, a remarkable portrait of a culture-whether Japan or adolescence-that looks eerily familiar but remains tantalizingly closed to outsiders.
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In a departure from what we have come to expect from this two-time Man Booker prize-winning novelist, Peter Carey?s latest offering is a memoir about travelling to Tokyo with his 12-year-old, five-foot-eight son Charley. The story he tells offers insight into his relationship with his adolescent son and provides an interesting account of what it is to be a gaijin (foreigner) in one of the most exciting and intriguing places on earth. Carey developed an interest in Japanese comics (manga) and animated films (anime) through his shy son?s obsession with these highly popular art forms. He witnessed Charley coming out of himself while engaging with him in analysing and theorising about the possible hidden meanings within anime and manga. He sought to encourage this interest further through their visit to Tokyo. Following the advice of his son and using his contacts in the publishing world, Carey sets up meetings with legendary anime directors. Carey?s desire to achieve a better understanding of Japanese culture leads him to encounters with a 10th-generation swordmaker, the transsexual publisher of an 825-page encyclopaedia of anime and a survivor of the World War II fire-bombing of Japan. Charley is adamant that they avoid ?the real Japan?, wanting no part in temples, tea ceremonies or kabuki. Unbeknownst to his father Charley has a contact of his own, Takashi, whom he met via the internet. Looking like he stepped straight out of an anime cell, teenage Takashi is an eager guide and Charley?s immediate ally. As is common with many travel companions, this father-and-son journey is not without tension. Carey insists his highly resistant son accompany him to a kabuki performance. Charley declares it the worst four hours of his life, worse than when he cut his heel and was stitched under inadequate anaesthetic. There is also tension around Takashi, whose presence had not been factored in when Carey had been planning their very brief stay in Tokyo. Carey writes very sensitively about an offence that he and his son unwittingly cause their young host. Carey is very effective in conveying his appreciation and respect for the people he encounters despite his theories about the culture being consistently rejected. Prior to reading Wrong about Japan my knowledge of Japanese culture was limited to cherry blossoms, saki and sushi. Because the trip and the book are so brief, I was far from sated, but rather left avidly wanting to discover more about the essence of this mysterious place. Helen Latemore has been a bookseller at Reader?s Feast in Melbourne for over seven years C. 2004 Thorpe-Bowker and contributors

"Thoughtful, sensitive exploration of contemporary Japanese culture."--"Kirkus Reviews" "This travel diary reads like a scintillating novella, and Carey has, in fact, added his own fictional embellishments to the real-life events he reports. . . . Carey's fluid and engaging writing style gets a boost from 25 energetic b&w anime/manga illustrations."--"Publishers Weekly" "Curious and affecting. . . . physically diminutive but emotionally huge. . . . Wrong About Japan reads like a literary version of Sophia Coppola's film "Lost in Translation," minus the melancholy and stylish soundtrack."--"The Scotsman" "Carey describes the father-son relationship with great dexterity and open-eyed tenderness. . . . The mysteries of Japan and father-son relationships prove to be rich subjects, especially for a writer at the peak of his powers, and they make for an entertaining and uplifting book. . . . The result is neither memoir nor travel book, but one of those hybrids that can so easily go wrong, but that here goes life-affirmingly right."--"The Sunday Times"

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