Human emotions, dark pasts, trials and tribulation, and complicated relationships are nothing new in literature. These are all common themes in countless novels, and we’ve seen the same scenario play out time and time again. Every now and then, an author comes along and makes these themes special, though, and strikes the right notes with his or her readers. Robert W. Norris has done this with his novel Toraware.
Toraware is the story of three people living in Japan, trying to find their place in the world. Harlan is a writer and a Vietnam War veteran in his early thirties who is unsure what he wants exactly out of life. He has come to Japan to teach English and experience a new culture. While there, he’s met two women who are also trying to find themselves, and each has become connected to Harlan. Sachiko has fallen for Harlan and his writing, but her feelings are not reciprocated. Sachiko has her own dark past and issues to work through and has a hard time dealing with rejection. Yoshiko and Harlan have a much closer relationship, but Harlan will not open up to her. Yoshiko is also fairly promiscuous, has an alcohol problem. and also has a dark past stemming from psychological issues.
Toraware is the tale of a universal need for acceptance. As mentioned before, we’ve seen these themes in other works, but they are presented beautifully here. Norris’ words match the beauty of the Japanese landscapes that he describes. You can tell that Norris has spent quite a bit of time in Japan, as reading the novel is somewhat of a study in the culture of Japan. I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of the novel, as Japan has always had a fascinating culture to me. Norris relates to his audience that despite language barriers, culture barriers, and gender barriers, we can all relate at the core to what it is to be human.
This book was a great surprise, and I look forward to getting to know Norris’ work a little bit better. He’s published a few other books, one of which is actually used to teach English to Japanese students - The Many Roads to Japan. Torawarecould have been extremely tedious if written by the wrong person, seeing as there’s not much action in the book. The book’s main aesthetic is voyeuristic; the reader is simply a fly on the wall as we experience the characters sorting out their lives. In Norris’ hands, the book is a huge success and a pleasure to read.