By Geraldine Shu For The North American Post
Alex Arai is a university art history professor who has lived within the confines of the stereotypes and expectations of a typical Japanese American. His relatively passive life takes on a different path when he learns more about another art form, graffiti, leading him to a new self-expression. His tags become a release of his inner truth.
“He finds himself fascinated by the structure of the letters, the detail of the characters, the use of vibrant color, the rhythm of the composition — the surprise of embellishment” (p. 22).
In trying to break free of the stereotype of the Asian American, Alex falls into the stereotype of a man going through a midlife crisis. The first half of the book is spent describing his everyday life as it begins to change and the various people in it. Because of this, it takes a long time to unravel the storyline. It becomes clear halfway through when Alex is motivated to take an irreversible course of action; his inner turmoil is revealed and his life begins to go AWRY (like his name). Had the book started at this point, it would have been a very intriguing beginning.
There are numerous elements intertwined in this book. Explanation of the culture and practice of graffiti is quite enlightening as spontaneous temporal works about individual style and respect. The tension between father and son is palpable yet unspoken. The long-term relationship between Alex and his partner is understood though unexpressed. There is a steamy affair between Alex and a former student. The sporadic references to Japanese American history and the Tohoku earthquake do not blend in as smoothly as one would hope. The storyline might have benefitted from greater focus on fewer components, rather than having them of seemingly equal weight. However, the writing is well-executed throughout.
Other readers on Amazon found this book thought-provoking, a must-read, illuminating, outstanding, exciting and engaging. Give it a read and see what you think.
“Alex evokes the stereotype of the polite Japanese. And part of that script is to never intrude on another’s boundaries… And the lack of intrusion feels like politeness, but also serves as self-protection — a means to not get involved” (pp. 151-152).