The Japanese word gaijin means "unwelcome foreigner." It's not profanity, but is sometimes a slur directed at non-Japanese people in Japan. My novel is called Gaijin...
Lucy is a budding journalist at Northwestern University and she's obsessed with an exotic new student, Owen Ota, who becomes her lover and her sensei. When he disappears without explanation, she's devastated and sets out to find him. On her three-month quest across Japan she finds only snippets of the elegant culture Owen had described. Instead she faces anti-U.S. protests, menacing street thugs and sexist treatment, and she winds up at the base of Mt. Fuji, in the terrifying Suicide Forest. Will she ever find Owen? Will she be driven back to the U.S.? Gaijin is a coming-of-age story about a woman who solves a heartbreaking mystery that alters the trajectory of her life.
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In her new life in Japan, Sarah Z. Sleeper's protagonist Lucy is a fish out of water, and in over her head at the very same time. A candid, beautifully descriptive map of a young woman's changing emotional landscape. --Sally J. Pla, award-winning author of The Someday Birds
Sarah Sleeper's charming bildungsroman Gaijin--Japanese for "outsider"--tells the story of a naïve, young, Midwestern woman named Lucy. A bookish loner, inexperienced in the ways of the world or of the heart, she has a very short but intense "infatuation" with an exotic and worldly Japanese man named Owen Ota, whom she meets in her college English class. From Owen she develops an idealized picture of all things Japanese. The relationship, however, is complicated and, for Lucy, punctuated by emotionally odd behaviors on Owen's part; their courtship ends before it really begins when Owen returns suddenly and mysteriously to his home country. Obsessed with Owen, Lucy, the outsider, follows her heart and travels to Japan to find out his "secret." There she is confronted by ugly cultural realities, as well as unpleasant emotional ones, realities she wasn't prepared for. A nuanced, subtly written tale that reminds one of those Jamesian cultural clashes between ingenuous Americans and sophisticated foreigners, Sleeper's novel shows us how we are all, at heart, gaijin. A novel particularly relevant in today's highly charged xenophobic era. -- Michael C. White, author of Beautiful Assassin.
When Lucy, a young, American journalist seeking the truth about the sudden disappearance of her college boyfriend, moves to Okinawa, she gets more than she bargained for. Amidst large protests held over a lurid rape case involving an American military man and a young Japanese girl, everything Lucy thought she knew about herself, her past, and the world is upended. A veil is lifted and through the eyes of the Japanese, she sees her own foreignness. She becomes the gaijin, unwanted and alien, a stranger even to herself. Against a backdrop of tea ceremonies, lotus blossoms, haikus, and the gritty reality of the difficult history of American and Japanese relationships, Sarah Sleeper weaves her deftly told story of a young woman's memorable journey toward a greater understanding of the truths that inhabit our complex world. Written with a journalist's eye for detail and a commitment to the truth, Gaijin is an expansive, meaningful debut. -- Karen Osborn, author most recently of the novel The Music Book