Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Reader's Diary #716- Nils Andrew Thompson: Looking for Momo in Tomo Domo

For the 10th update of the 4th Canadian Book Challenge I announced that if we read and reviewed 10 or more Canadian books with a Japanese connection, I'd donate $200 to the Red Cross for their earthquake relief efforts. If we came up less than 10 books, I'd donate $10 per book. Nils Andrew Thompson's Looking for Momo in Tomo Domo is my contribution.

Thompson, like many Canadians, went to Japan to teach English. Looking for Momo in Tomo Domo records his yearlong experience. It's at once a travelogue, a teacher's journal, and even a romance.

Thompson's style is amusing for the most part, but the corny jokes lose their charm after a while. In one scene, for instance, he asks his Japanese girlfriend for a kiss, chu in Japanese. It was the 2nd time the word had caused them a problem-- the 1st time around it was Thompson's turn to learn the word. This time it was his attempt at using it that caused the communication breakdown. His girlfriend had just brought him presents:
"I brought you presents."
Yummy! She carried a bag that appeared to be full of gifts.
"Chew," I offered.
"Maybe, you must open them to see."
"No... a thank-you chew," I stressed.
"Chu, chu," I clarified, puckering my lips.
"Ah chu," she replied laughing.
We chewed.
Chuga, chuga, choo, choo!

An amusing enough anecdote without the last cornball line thrown in. The more of these he wrote, the more irritating they became. Probably because I'm guilty of such lame jokes myself. Typical dad jokes, though Thompson wasn't a dad at the time and they don't really serve any purpose in a book. But, I told myself, that wasn't the point of the book-- an apology I've been making for a lot of non-fiction lately. Which leads me to an important question: should non-fiction writing be held to a lower standard than fiction writing because the information supersedes the expression?

Supposing the answer is yes,I'm still not sure Thompson's book is off the hook. Certainly it would give a Canadian some sense of the culture and our differences and similarities, but some of it is quite dated, even though it was published only 10 years ago. This is most apparent when he discusses cellphones. "The portable telephones were rampant," he writes. Apparently shocked over the addiction people had to their phones, I wonder what he thinks of the iPhone epidemic in Canada 10 years later. Seeing someone talk on the cellphone while riding their bike isn't even shocking in Yellowknife anymore.

But, for all that, I got what I wanted from the book. I fell in love with Japan when we'd visited last year; so much so that we have considered teaching there. But then when the earthquake struck, it looked like teaching in Japan would be off the table forever. For a few brief weeks, Looking for Momo in Tomo Domo, was a pleasant way to experience that dream vicariously. Hopefully it'll suffice until we figure out away to prevent earthquakes and tsunamis.

Have you read a book for the Canadian-Japanese mini-challenge? Make sure to let my know before the month is up!


Kate said...

I don't know if you want us to inform you by e-mail or in these comments, but I have read and reviewed Skim for the Canadian-Japanese mini-challenge.

Anonymous said...

Here's my review of Skim.

Wanda said...

Funny that we both picked decade old books written by teachers for your mini-challenge. It appears I like my choice more than you liked yours.

Ahh chu! No, I'm not kissing up, I just sneezed. Yeah, uhm, cornball doesn't really work for me ...

Perogyo said...

I missed this- what a wonderful challenge. Thank you so much for your support of the relief efforts.

I have a hard time reading teachers-come-to-Japan books, just because they all seem so cartoonish and so away from my experience. Like a car crash though, I can't turn away and have read about 10!