Sunday, March 22, 2009

Book Review: "My Year of Meats" by Ruth L. Ozeki (rated 4 stars)

by Ruth L. Ozeki

I checked out this book from the public library because of a workshop I attended in preparation for my study tour to China. Yes, how does it relate? Well, our speaker is a professor of Asian American literature at UCLA so she mentioned some authors that she discusses with her undergraduate students. I have never read any of Ruth Ozeki’s books but I was interested in her movie “Halving the Bones” which again lead me to her writings.
This book probably does not help in my obsession with Michael Pollan and the food industry in the United States. Ozeki goes pretty in depth into the meat industry by using it as a focal point for a novel about women and the idealization of women in the home. The premise of the story is that Jane Takagi-Little, a half-Japanese and half-American, must help a Japanese business man, create a show called “My American Wife.” The show follows the ideal American wife, white, upper middle class, fit, etc., and shows her life as well as features a particular type of meat, preferrably beef, receipe.

However, Jane goes against the rules because she is a documentarian. She sees her role as producing this show for the greater good and sometimes, for the greater good, you need to show the truth. That may include showing an “imperfect family”, for example, a couple that adopted 6 Korean kids in addition to their two and one happens to be pregnant or a lesbian couple who have 2 adopted children or a couple who’s daughter happens to be in a wheelchair. And these couples even be vegetarian which goes against the real premise for the show, which is to promote the beef industry in Japan.

“My Year of Meats” is hilarious, heart-breaking, inspiring and informative. It is at times scary but you cannot help but become invested in Ozeki’s characters. Jane is not the only important figure. Her entire crew and the man she works for, that man’s wife as well as the families she films all become significant. There are a number of different themes that Ozeki addresses from being a child of parents from 2 very different cultures, racism, issues of adoption, issues of sexual orientation, tolerance, intolerance, the food industry, and so much more. It is definitely worth picking up and reading.

No comments: