Acclaimed novelist shares unique work

Andrea Wilson

Acclaimed novelist Karen Tei Yamashita, whose diverse work has been welcomed as a fresh approach to literary representations of human culture, read some of her unique work for a University audience on Feb. 17.

Yamashita’s reading was full of interjected stories, laughter and body language, complementing her interactive writing style which invites readers to assume more influence in their experience of the text.

The author’s international life experiences are revealed by her strong interest in multicultural themes, and Yamashita tried to clarify her creative approach to ethnography for the audience.

Through a blending of research and the imagined experience, “You get closer to the true story, or you get closer to the true lie,” she said, speaking of her interest in telling true stories through unusual uses of fiction.

Yamashita’s critically acclaimed novel, “Tropic of Orange,” is a postmodernist work that tackles the complex issues of trade, multiculturalism, homelessness and the media.

At times magical and at other times aggressively real, the 1997 novel is political in its discussion of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the border politics that consume Californian and Mexican culture.

“No single imagination is wild or crass or cheesy enough to compete with the collective mindlessness that propels our fascination forward,” Yamashita warns readers at the outset of her fragmented novel, which is concerned with the way humans perceive reality. “We were all there; we all saw it on TV screen and monitor, larger than life.”

Yamashita’s most recent book, “Circle K Cycles,” defies classification, incorporating journal entries, fiction, personal essays, photography, maps and glossaries in three languages to tell the story of about 200,000 Brazilians immigrants living in Japan. An earlier novel, “Brazil-Maru,” explores Japanese immigration to Brazil. The two books were born out of Yamashita’s actual experiences living in Japan, Brazil and America.

“All of us live in a kind of Brazil time,” Yamashita told the audience as she read from her most recent book, which has a theme of cultural adaptation.

Yamashita, who currently teaches literature and creative writing at the University of California in Santa Cruz, has written four books and has received several fellowships and awards for her creative work, including the American Book Award and the Janet Heidinger Kafka Award for her 1990 novel, “Through the Arc of the Rain Forest.”

The reading by the Japanese-American novelist was part of the seventh annual University Literary Festival. The Festival will continue this spring with readings by poets Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Sekou Sundiata and memoirist Jacob Slichter.