Book Review by Gracy Samjetsabam
Title: Indigo Girl
Author: Suzanne Kamata
Publisher: Gemma Media (2019)
Indigo Girl is a coming-of-age novel by Suzanne Kamata, an award-winning novelist who resides in Japan. A sequel to the young adult novel Gadget Girl, a book that won multiple awards including the APALA (Asia Pacific American Award for Literature) Honor award in 2013-2014, the story centres around the life of the protagonist, Aiko Cassidy.
Aiko is a biracial and a bicultural teenager with cerebral palsy. Raised by a single mother, who now has a new family, she questions her idea of belonging and home. She yearns to know more about her biological father and the many questions that shroud her existence.
Aiko is excited about her summer break and looks forward to the solo trip from Michigan (USA) to Tokushima (Japan). It is her first visit to Japan, the place she describes as “where I belong” as she pictures it as “the land of Ghibli and iced matcha lattes, land of indigo and cat cafes and manga and J-pop”. Although she is 15 and has cerebral palsy, she is independent and confident like any other teen and thinks that she is old enough to speak for herself. The trip that was meant to be a summer getaway — to connect to her biological father and to inspire the book she was working on — ends up opening a whole new window to life for Aiko.
By Chandra Ganguly
How do you make sense of life when your friend dies? How do you make sense of life when thousands were washed away by waters in a tsunami or killed ruthlessly in a genocide? How do you make sense of lives lived in pain whether due to atrocities committed by other or genetic mutations that make every day living a study in pain and forbearance? Peter Trachtenberg’s The Book of Calamities examines the meaning of life through these occurrences while asking five questions, “Why me? How do I endure? What is just? What does my suffering say about me and about God? What do I owe those who suffer?”
The book is a compelling first hand account of not just the author’s own suffering due to substance abuse, the death of his friends and his parents but also a first hand account of other people’s pain as he travels to places of strife such as Rwanda and Sri Lanka, follows up with families who lost loved ones on September 11, and interviews those in grief, seeking an answer to his questions.
The beauty of the book lies in the author’s ardent and almost unflinching seeking. He intersperses his travels and experiences with philosophies and religious texts from the Bible and Buddhism mainly but those chapters and paragraphs are like supporting documents, almost theoretical in their references. It is his travels and walks through the trenches of human suffering that pulls the reader in. How many people do we know who have travelled to Rwanda after the genocide or Sri Lanka after the tsunami? How many brave the hostility of these climates to ask questions? Trachtenberg recounts his experiences in such places and interviews people such as the Daley twins who suffered from Epidermolysis Bullosa, a form of affliction that made living in your own skin literally almost possible. The author befriends the people he seeks out in his journey to find a meaning and makes his research into suffering an empathetic and intimate look into lives we read about and normally keep at a distance. By describing his own sufferings, Trachtenberg draws us further into his story and his own search for meaning — “. . . suicide suddenly appealed to me as something I could do . . . I used about fifty Fiorinal and a razor blade that I was too squeamish to do very much with.” ( p. 57)
In Japan, we are reminded almost daily about the 3/11 disaster by the mainstream media. The frequency, quality and tone of these reports is a hugely problematic issue for anyone who wishes to distinguish between national identity and natural disaster. This is the topic of Gennifer S. Weisenfeld’s historical, but wholly relevant book “Imaging Disaster: Tokyo and the Visual Culture of Japan’s Great Earthquake of 1923,” which acts as an incisive reminder that our reactions to trauma are configured by society and politics.