three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
16-May-June-2005
By: 
Peter Carey
user_rating: 
0

A Father’s Journey with His Son

A-WrongAboutJapanA shared interest in Japanese animation spurs a trip to Japan for author Peter Carey and his 12-year-old son Charley. While Peter hopes to uncover the historic roots of anime and manga, Charley just wants to see cool stuff and meet his heroes—and avoid anything lumped into his father’s conception of the "real" Japan. As the two fumble through translated encounters with animation artists, sword makers, and "lonely, obsessive geek[s]" called otaku, it becomes clear that understanding a foreign country, whether real or imagined, is more difficult than it seems in a guidebook.
Knopf. 176 pages, $17.95. ISBN: 1400043115

Atlanta Jrnl-Constitution 4 of 5 Stars
"Carey’s prose is a confectionary swirl of cartoon images and journalistic remove. … [T]his memoir is homage both to Charley and to the art form that so captivated him." John Freeman

Irish Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Fans of Carey’s astonishing formal dexterity may expect him to subvert the conventions of the writerly travel tome, the better to say something breathtakingly original or strange. If that doesn’t happen a lot, it doesn’t really matter. Before long, you start feeling you’re a fellow traveler on the trip, as the rhythms of the book begin to coax you in." Joseph O’Connor

Independent (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In the same way that the film Lost in Translation wasn’t about Japan, but about in-between states, so Carey’s bonsai of a book is not really about Japanese manga and anime, but about the frustrations of ignorance, and about language being both the only hope of understanding and the principal impediment to it." Philip Gwyn Jones

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"[Carey] neatly captures the mood of disorientation and the tiny slights and dramas that characterize travel outside your own culture. But his tendency towards authorial invisibility seems like a flaw in a travel book of this kind." Marcel Theroux

The Guardian (UK) 3 of 5 Stars
"… Wrong About Japan does not proceed directly towards its vouchsafed conclusions, but rather wanders slowly towards them in that slightly soft-drug kind of prose that makes Carey’s work so enjoyable, so charming and sometimes so infuriating." Ian Sansom

Austin Amer-Statesman 3 of 5 Stars
"What is ‘wrong’ is his expectation that the artists he interviews will be as eloquent with words as they are with their art. Carey understands Japan better when he simply sits back and lets the experience waft over him." Susan J. Napier

Critical Summary

With two Booker Prizes to his credit, Carey has little left to prove in literary circles. But he admits straightaway that he’s a horrible reporter. So horrible, in fact, that one of the characters of his new nonfiction book, Wrong About Japan, is entirely fictional. That reviewers let such trickery slide attests to Carey’s remarkable writing skills, as does the rich variety of critical responses to his book. It’s an homage to his son, a study of dislocation, and an intellectual inquiry into the roots of Japanese animation. A few critics knocked Carey for not being the best travel companion on the page and meandering rather than driving straight at his point. Wrong About Japan is a slight book, but just as with the best animation, one should not dismiss it as child’s play.