Review: Turning Japanese

When it comes to graphic memoirs, there are very few that grabs a reader as one where the memoirist is honest about themselves and whomever else they are writing about. I remember the first autobiographical graphic memoir I read, that moved me, was American Splendor series, as the author’s works are prolific yet his life is relatable and true. There were times reading that book that I barreled over laughing, not only at the protagonist but also at myself, for doing something similar. Another book, which had a similar effect, was the graphic memoir of rapper, MF Grimm, Sentences, which I bought off the fact, I enjoyed his music, but read as to only a fan, but a comics fan, and much like Harvey Pekar’s story, I related to MF Grimm’s as well.

The last graphic memoir series, that I found myself embroiled in, even at its most cringeworthy moments, is the Love and Rockets series, as it captured some of my life through most of my 20s through my early 30s. Although these books provided great examples of life splashed on sequential art, I am constantly in search for creators who push boundaries yet pull their readers along for their adventures. So, when I read about MariNaomi, in an interview she did for another website, I was more than intrigued and a little mad at myself for just learning about her. The book which piqued my interest was her book, Turning Japanese, which talked about her adventures living in Japan, with a boyfriend who tends to rely on her as a translator, but the real conflict that got to me, was being a stranger and a native to the country you are born to and the one your parents came from.

I have personally visited both countries that my parents came from, quite a few times , even living in Trinidad for more than a few years and never quite felt like one of their own, which I really was not but as an American, as most of us who possess melanin, especially in my age group, we used to hear, when asked “where are you from?”, I would say “Queens,” and then that question would be followed by “where are you really from?” MariNoami beautifully captures this struggle many of us children of immigrants face throughout each chapter. We first meet her at age 22 after she just broke up with a boyfriend and is looking for clarity in her life. She eventually moves to Japan to work as a hostess at a hostess bar, in Japan, where she captures every detail as it really goes down in those establishments. Her story brings back memories for myself when I was still in the military when I was a stranger in a magical land. By book’s end, the writer has uncovered revelations about the country her parents are from but also about herself and her identity as a Japanese American.

Altogether, a powerful memoir, that resonated with me a 1000 times over, not only because MariNaomi is an expert storyteller, but her story is irreverent and relatable at some of the most interesting parts. Where I found myself relating to her the most is when she talked about learning her mother’s tongue, much like I did when my mother was still alive, those conversations still resonate. Overall, a humorous and moving novel, that one will want read and read again, just to imitate a certain feeling.

Story: MariNaomi Art: MariNaomi
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

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