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April 23, 2008

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Leigh Walton

Thanks for the very thoughtful responses, Charles. I have to quibble with one point:

Perhaps that’s part of Martinson’s point: his protagonist’s failure to truly take in his new surroundings. (Why, apart from autobiographical truth, is this story set in Japan?) Maybe T­ōnoharu is meant to be the very opposite of a travel narrative. But, if so, there’s no contrasting element in the book to bring the point forward. The story focuses solely on Dan...

As you mention toward the end of the piece, there is a contrasting element and a section which does not focus on Dan -- the Prologue chapter, which features not only Dan's successor (and a much-needed external perspective on Dan) but also the bitter, ranting AET from the train. Martinson's decision to open with one character before jumping back and settling into his real protagonist is an interesting structural choice that, for me, colors the whole experience of reading the story.

It's in the ancient tradition of framed narratives from Taming of the Shrew to Frankenstein, yes, but for me the book that came to mind was Paul Hornschemeier's Mother, Come Home. That book obviously shares a lot with Tonoharu -- a deep Ware influence in everything from palette to pacing to characterization to design -- but my strongest memory of Hornschemeier's book is a deliberately unbalanced narrative structure so striking that it almost becomes the fundamental conceit of the entire book. If Hornschemeier's point was that everything in Mother, Come Home comprised the "Prologue" of these characters' lives, Martinson must be doing at least something similar. By opening with these other models of expat life, he prepares us to view Dan's story with the understanding that he's only one in a long line of visiting foreign teachers, destined to be ground down and chewed up by the passionless routine. The situation makes him interchangeable, which (combined with the language barrier) makes him anonymous.

At least that's what I take from it.

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