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Polite Lies


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About the Author

Kyoko Mori is the author of three nonfiction books: Yarn: Remembering the Way Home; Polite Lies: On Being a Woman Caught Between Cultures; and The Dream of Water. Mori's essay "Yarn" was selected for The Best American Essays 2004 and Polite Lies was shortlisted for PEN's Martha Albrand Nonfiction Award.


Creative writing professor Mori (Dream of Water, LJ 12/94) offers a poignant portrait of her dichotomous life: a childhood in Japan and an adulthood in the American Midwest. These 12 personal essays show the insight evident in Mori's previous works. "Polite lies" refers to the imbalance present in the two cultures and the resulting balance Mori establishes for herself and her readers with wit and warmth. Topics include family, secrets, the body, and tears. The distinction between the public and the private colors the double world that Mori speaks of so eloquently. Sacrificial deaths, tragic suicides‘all these may be exalted in Japanese art and literature, yet the personal tragedy of Mori's mother's suicide was "shameful instead of glorious"‘she was never to mention the event. This strong collection binds one woman's old country with her new one, repeating her impassioned desire not to be swept up in a lifetime of polite acquiescence as were the women of her youth.‘Kay Meredith Dusheck, Univ. of Iowa, Iowa City

"A small universe of memory and reflection, analysis and synthesis, presented with an artist's touch."
--The Boston Sunday Globe

"A BEAUTIFUL BOOK . . . Her prose has the deceptive simplicity of a Japanese garden. By itself, each element seems to be plain and unadorned, but, in combination, the effect is stunning."
--Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Kyoko Mori is "uniquely qualified to write at an intersection many have visited but few have truly understood."
--The Washington Post Book World

For the first 20 years of her life, Mori (The Dream of Water) felt straitjacketed by the Japanese culture in which she was raised; for the last 20, she has found liberation in Green Bay, Wis., of all places, where she teaches creative writing. In 12 plangent, autobiographical sketches, she recalls her experiences in both cultures and reflects on a series of defining issues, among them women, marriage, family, death, emotion, bodies and significant language characteristics. She claims she doesn't like to speak Japanese because to do so, "you have to agree on... which one of you is superior, how close you expect to be... and who defers." Although she excoriates the Japanese for elevating politeness above honesty, she values the comfort that traditions and rituals can offer, for example, at such times as death. This engagingly insightful discussion from one who has intimately experienced the two cultures is full of revelations about both. (Jan.)

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