Through the arc of the rain forest : a novel /

Main Author: Yamashita, Karen Tei, 1951-
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: Minneapolis : Saint Paul, Minn. : Coffee House Press ; 1990.
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Review by Choice Review

If one were to imagine a novel that intermixes the dark imaginings of contemporary Japanese fiction with the surrealistic positings of Latin American magical realism but is written in English by a Japanese-American, one might still not be ready for the bizarre occurrences in Karen Tei Yamashita's novel--ready for the likes of a Japanese who, struck down by a kamikaze, acquires a twirling ball (the novel's narrator) that permanently accompanies him through life and leads him to the mother lode of a fantastic Brazilian plastic. There is more: a woman with three breasts who is fulfilled in life when she becomes romantically involved with a three-handed businessman; there is a cult built around therapeutic feathers. By the time the book's apocalyptic ending is reached, the reader recognizes having been involved in an elaborate parable about the effects of Western culture on the Brazilian rain forest. Incredible events are recited with a ho-hum matter-of-factness in this compact work of fiction whose title has to do with transformations into opposites--into, indeed, in the case of Brazil, a Nabokovian theme-park. Recommended for the reader who wishes we still had Nathanael West around. For all libraries interested in collecting offbeat fiction. -J. M. Ditsky, University of Windsor

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

Yamashita, award-winning playwright and short story writer, offers a sly, rambunctious, and wise first novel of global dimension. Cleverly exploiting the converging dramas and extreme characters of a soap opera, Yamashita spins interconnected tales of devotion and corruption that ridicule the heedless drive for wealth and power. The tale is set in early twenty-first-century Brazil, when a mysterious matacao ("vast plastic mantle") is found as sections of the rain forest are cut down. The matacao becomes a mecca for entrepreneurs of many ilks including a three-armed man running a corporation, an Indian who's use of feathers as a calming device catapults him to dubious celebrity, and a Japanese man with his own personal satellite--a small ball that spins in front of his face. The changes that sudden fame and riches bring to people's lives parallel the effects industrialization and materialism have had on the environment--they unbalance and sicken. Incisive and funny, this book yanks our chains and makes us see the absurdity that rules our world. --Donna Seaman

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

This satiric morality play about the destruction of the Amazon rain forest unfolds with a diversity and fecundity equal to its setting. First-novelist Yamashita blends the matter-of-fact surrealism of Garcia Marquez, bizarre science fiction twists a la Stanislaw Lem, and a gift for satirizing bureaucracy that recalls Heller of Catch 22 --all in a Chaucerian framework. But in the end it is the author's unique voice that emerges. A Japanese-American who has lived in Los Angeles and Brazil, Yamashita seems to have thrown into the pot everything she knows and most that she can imagine--all to good effect. The cast includes: the unusual narrator, a small ball that whirls near the forehead of a Japanese living in Brazil; American Jonathan B. Tweep, a three-armed businessman who develops the Theory of Trialectics; Mane Pena, who makes his fortune through ``Featherology,'' the art of healing with feathers; and a couple whose pigeon-raising hobby turns into a national obsession and big business. The seemingly disparate plot lines converge explosively in the rain forest on the Matacao, a mysterious shiny plateau that at first offers wealth and miracles, and eventually death and disaster. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

This expansive and ambitious novel attempts, fairly successfully, to weave an immediate concern for the environment with an incredible and complicated story. The setting is the Brazilian jungle, and the cast of characters could people a circus: a middle-aged Japanese man with a golf ball-sized sphere buzzing in front of his forehead, a three-armed executive from New York, an old man who founds the ``science'' of featherology, and a boy who is believed to be an angel--to name just a few. These characters converge, each with a separate mission, on the unique ``natural'' phenomenon known as the Matacao, a huge flat plastic plain in the middle of the jungle. Boundless greed and the unthinking destruction of our environment are as much a part of the story as the delicate relations among the characters. Although the clever parodies of modern society (from yuppies to New Age spiritualism to animal rights groups) are a bit heavy-handed, and at times the plot bogs down in its own intricacies, this is ultimately enjoyable reading.-- Jessica Grim, Univ. of California at Berkeley Lib. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Japanese-American Yamashita's first novel has an agenda at the beginning--concern for environmental devastation--but this is more than a piece of environmental pleading. Instead, it's as much about contemporary concerns as about the universal search for meaning and permanence. Not derivative but certainly indebted, Yamashita echoes the magic realism of writers like Garcia Márquez as she tells the story of the fabulous Matacao plain in the midst of the Brazilian forest. The surface of the Matacao has strange properties that soon attract a host of characters--including a devout fisherman, a three-breasted French ornithologist, and a dare-devil cripple. They come in search of health, in observance of vows, and, finally, as the area develops, riches. A peasant farmer also discovers-accidentally--the healing powers of feathers, and soon feathers and the cult of feather use have swept the world. At the same time, a Japanese man, Kazumasa Ishimaru, who is always followed by a small ball with special powers, emigrates to Brazil. He befriends a local pigeon-fancier who trains his pigeons to deliver messages that are thought to have special meaning. A message that mentions Kazumasa brings the Japanese great wealth and attracts the attention of the three-armed entrepreneur J.B. Tweep, who has discovered that the strange surface of the Matacao is a remarkable plastic. But the Matacao's fortune is short-lived: the feathers not only cause the extinction of birds but are also responsible for a typhus epidemic, and the fabled Matacao plastic begins to disintegrate. Only the innocent and good like Kazumasa, who has never sought riches or miracles, experience happy endings. Along with a loving evocation of Brazil, the woes and fils of contemporary society are acutely described here; but Yamashita's affection for the quirkiness of human nature, as well as her sympathy for her characters' plights, makes this a novel, not a polemic. A fine debut. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.