Cynthia Kadohata | Critical Review by James Idema

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Cynthia Kadohata.
This section contains 637 words
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Critical Review by James Idema

SOURCE: "Love finds a way in a sad, future L.A.," in Chicago Tribune, August 30, 1992, Sec 14, p. 7.

In the following review, Idema writes that Kadohata's depiction of a disintegrating 2052 Los Angeles in her novel In the Heart of the Valley of Love is convincing and likens the main protagonist Francie to Holden Caulfield.

Contrary to George Orwell's vision 35 years previous, 1984 turned out to be not such a bad year. Upon reading In the Heart of the Valley of Love, one hopes that novelist Cynthia Kadohata is even less prescient about 2052 and the world as it is observed that year by her heroine, a 19-year-old Japanese-American orphan living in Los Angeles. But don't count on it. Kadohata's projection of an exhausted planet is all too convincing.

Here is Francie recalling the scene in Chicago, where she lived when she was 12 and she and her friends "were very afraid of growing up":

"There were a lot of expressionless people walking around, especially in big cities. They'd learned it in childhood. There was a long time when it seemed to me that … everyone I knew or had known had been beaten or was being beaten or was dying or had witnessed death. Everyone I knew understood the particular mix of fear and numbness that only repeated and intense physical suffering can inspire."

That was Chicago. She has moved to Los Angeles with her parents and, after their deaths, lives with her aunt and her aunt's boyfriend, who traffic in black market goods, a more or less acceptable occupation in a society where virtually everybody cheats to stay alive.

Francie packs a Mace gun because of the random violence. Fans at a baseball game are killed for rooting for the opposing team. People are rioting not for change but for destruction. Prolonged drought has led people to use the word "dry" in conversation to indicate something bad. The sun is hazy, the stars faded by pollution. Breathing is often difficult, and new diseases await identification. Windmills and solar panels mark the landscape, as do the "concrete rainbows" of an unfinished highway network.

Against this baleful background, Kadohata manages with lean, uncomplicated prose to tell a remarkable story of love and redemption, with characters who are credible and sympathetic. Francie, who tells her own story, is particularly endearing because of her unaffected response to her situation. "I was nothing if not adaptable," she observes. "That's me, Queen of the Adapts."

One is reminded of Holden Caulfield, another wise child, when Francie seems to address the reader directly. "The way it was today," she says in the beginning, "with people dying or getting arrested or all the time leaving each other, you hated to love people, you really did."

But she loves her Auntie Annie and Auntie's roguish friend, Rohn, and especially, Carl, a tattoo artist and philosopher, who possesses yoyu, a Japanese word that Francie's mother once told her means "something left over" and indicates "a spiritual excess that allowed some people to be generous."

The idea that generosity, friendship and love, as well as good humor, could bloom among people who obviously live near the edge of extinction seems incredible, but this novelist, through her resilient, resourceful heroine, makes us believers.

"Auntie said Christmas used to be the biggest holiday of the year, but later it became New Year's, which was a mildly apocalyptic holiday, and Thanksgiving, because the fact that there was less and less to be thankful for made one all the more thankful for what there was."

In the Heart of the Valley of Love is Cynthia Kadohata's second novel. Her first, The Floating World, portrayed a Japanese-American family in the California of the '50s, drifting from one low paying job to another. The humanity that illuminated that story is abundant in this one as well.

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This section contains 637 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by James Idema
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