“This book speaks to my heart. ...Read it. You will be uplifted.”--Ruth Ozeki, Zen priest, author of A Tale for the Time Being
Marie Mutsuki Mockett's family owns a Buddhist temple 25 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. In March 2011, after the earthquake and tsunami, radiation levels prohibited the burial of her Japanese grandfather's bones. As Japan mourned thousands of people lost in the disaster, Mockett also grieved for her American father, who had died unexpectedly.
Seeking consolation, Mockett is guided by a colorful cast of Zen priests and ordinary Japanese who perform rituals that disturb, haunt, and finally uplift her. Her journey leads her into the radiation zone in an intricate white hazmat suit; to Eiheiji, a school for Zen Buddhist monks; on a visit to a Crab Lady and Fuzzy-Headed Priest’s temple on Mount Doom; and into the “thick dark” of the subterranean labyrinth under Kiyomizu temple, among other twists and turns. From the ecstasy of a cherry blossom festival in the radiation zone to the ghosts inhabiting chopsticks, Mockett writes of both the earthly and the sublime with extraordinary sensitivity. Her unpretentious and engaging voice makes her the kind of companion a reader wants to stay with wherever she goes, even into the heart of grief itself.
“An illuminating journey into grief and Japanese culture, a place that few would dare to venture.”--The Japan Times
“[A]n involving, evocative tale that will have bookish women everywhere shuddering in recognition.”--The Guardian
Joanna Smith Rakoff was an office assistant in New York City working for a literary agent when she was handed the responsibility of replying to all correspondence written to the agency's notorious client, J. D. Salinger.
She was supposed to inform the fans that Salinger would not accept letters and return the correspondence. But she felt a growing sense of Holden taking grasp of her--a growing familiarity with the life crises that prompted the queries--and, rather than brushing off the correspondents, Rakoff started posing as Salinger and supplying answers to strangers' requests for advice. She wrote one girl to start studying harder if she wanted an A in English, to another woman that she was sorry about the loss of her daughter who'd so loved A Perfect Day for Bananafish. The words of advice started flowing, and Rakoff's alter ego started dispensing the advice as she imagined it would flow from the 80-year-old Zen Buddhist vegetarian himself, in an alternative world.
Rakoff writes, “Salinger, I thought, would have done the same thing. And so would have Franny, Zooey, Seymour, and Holden, certainly they would have. Franny, clutching her little cloth copy of The Way of a Pilgrim, would cry over these letters, would keep them in her overcrowded purse, folding and unfolding them until they fell apart at the creases.”
In the tradition of Nora Ephron, Steve Martin, and David Sedaris, Rakoff has created a bittersweet, hilarious tale that will win a huge national audience. This is the striking debut of a young writer and a nonfiction jewel for Salinger scholars.
Joanna Rakoff’s novel A Fortunate Age won the Goldberg Prize for Jewish Fiction by Emerging Writers and the Elle Readers’ Prize, and was a New York Times Editors’ Choice and a San Francisco Chronicle best seller. She has written for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Vogue, and other publications. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.