by Alan Brown
Toshi Okamoto lives in two worlds. Much of the time the young comic-book illustrator savors the cosmopolitan chaos of Tokyo, with its exotica like green-tea tiramisu cake, pets you can rent by the hour and, most enticing of all, the lithe Western women who have fascinated him ever since he saw Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday on his ninth birthday. But then memory, or just a familiar voice on the phone, will transport him back to his childhood home on Hokkaido. There on the northernmost of the Japanese islands, the snow piles so high, legend has it, that slumbering foxes are stranded on their pine branch perches when it melts, moss glows phosphorescently and, for as long as he can remember, Toshi’s mother and father have been separated by a chill as palpable as the ice that chokes the winter waters.
As Toshi probes the mystery of his parents’ relationship—eventually uncovering a secret that will throw info question his very identity—and pursues an incendiary affair with his kinky English teacher, Brown fuses these dual universes with an authority unexpected in either a first-time novelist or an outsider to this most insular of cultures. But judging by the way the now New York City-based writer evokes Japan’s sights, sounds and scents, his seven years as a freelance reporter there were well-spent. Written in uncommonly supple prose, by turns sensuous, poignant and even funny, Brown’s dazzling debut soars like a flock of geese through a moon-dappled sky. (Pocket, $21)