In Appropriate by ARUDOU Debito: a review

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This is a difficult book to review; you all know I am going to slag it off, but I have tried to approach it with an open mind. Let’s get the headline quote over and done with:

"I couldn’t put it down"

I’d better put that in context: "I couldn’t put it down fast enough". It’s not even, as Mr Arudou rated Avatar, "a good college try" but more just a stream of hate of Japanese society interspersed with highlights from various blog entries from Debito.org. The best way to get through the book is to play a drinking game – every time a theme from his blog appears, take a drink. It’ll soon numb the pain of you banging your head against the table.

He – sorry, Gary Schmidt, an amalgamation of himself and Christopher Savoie – gets pushed out of the Japanese line at Narita, stopped by the police on the way to the train, spoken to in English and carded in a hotel all in the space of the journey from the airport to his hotel. Indeed, by page 78, the pretence of being a novel disappears and an essay on Japanese police procedures appears. Then there’s the excruciatingly-awkward dating portion, but more troubling is the bile spat out towards not just Gary’s in-laws but Japanese in general; on one hand it’s fiction, but on the other hand as the story is so personal to Mr Arudou it is easy to assume that it is him, not Gary, that is saying things like "Heart-to-hearts were supposed to be mother-daughter, so Keiko would have to act as interlocutor for Gary to find out anything about Aiko’s school day" and "He would show them that once out of Japan, the spectrum of mindsets and possibilities could be more than just shades of grey."

About three-quarters of the way through the book, I began to suspect that I’d missed the whole point and it’s actually a satire of himself and his blog, especially when I read lines like "…again, something that would make it harder for meddling bystanders to describe after the getaway." I can’t help picturing the Scooby-Doo villain of the week saying that line. Perhaps this is just a side-effect of my drinking game?

Looking at the book itself, at $10 for 100 pages it is distinctly overpriced and very distinctly underedited. He once mentioned in a talk how articles needed 17 drafts, yet if anything he seemed proud of only doing four drafts of this.

The story ends with Gary, alone, flying off into the sunset and Thailand; does a similar destiny await the author? The letter of thanks I got on buying the book perhaps hints at that: "Your support will help me and Debito.org go in new directions."

Stars out of five: do you really need to ask?

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89 Comments.

  1. KT, you have my sympathies! I hope you’ve got a bottle of whisky handy to help you make it through to the end. :cry:

  2. chuckers, “You are not authorised to see this status” :sad:

    Google has it, but I’d seen it already. I wonder why he decided to hide or delete it?

    Oh, and he’s changed his Twitter avatar too; I noticed in most of his other social media bios he’s changed himself to “Author and columnist, etc”.

  3. BTW, no more speculation about Ms. Beamer, please!

  4. Wow, that’s a bizarre bug – select “English (UK)” from the box at the bottom and the reviews disappear; go to “English (US)” and they reappear!

  5. Actually, I tried googling stock photos of the Miyajima torii, and it is a lot shorter than the one on the cover.

  6. LB, I don’t know of any national government kimono-wearing campaign, but for the next two weeks as part of a Kyoto promotion, city buses and the underground will be giving free rides to kimono-wearers. I can’t find anything online about it however…

  7. Ken, you’re not worried that someone here might contact Ms. Beamer’s university and ask them what they think about a student (who, looking at the dates, has likely completed all the work required for the degree and defended her thesis but simply hasn’t matriculated) inflating their academical credentials by claiming to have a degree that has not yet been conferred are you? Or whether they have some sort of academic honor code that she’s violating by making such claims?

    Perish the thought, that’s something you’d expect from Dave and the Debitards. We’re far to nice around here to do anything like that, no matter how fun the fireworks might be. Although Dave (since we know he reads this) might want to have a little talk with her – some folks (like the 2chan’ers) aren’t nearly as nice as we apathetic malcontents are.

  8. Sounds perfectly reasonable to me! :lol:

  9. This really isn’t an ethical issue unless she represents herself as a PhD in a CV, job application, or academic context.

  10. personally i wouldnt touch the book with a bargepole whilst simultaneously wearing rubber gloves,but i do get a kick out of people buying the book of someone they profess to completely hate.
    maybe this is a novel way to make the big sales someone else was referring to .it certainly is a cunning plan.

  11. Space Herpes?

  12. A few days ago, someone let him give a talk to impressionable young Japanese minds in some High School somewhere. He is still using the PowerPoint presentation and pimping out his daughters with that (in)famous photo of them from about 15 years ago, claiming that this is the changing face of Japan for the coming years. This, in spite of the fact that at least one of them doesn’t live in Japan anymore….

  13. Are you certain? I’d swear I remember Dave complaining that he got to see his daughters for dinner once since his “Crybaby Tour 2007″ and he wasn’t happy because the ex-wife was pretty brutal to him.

  14. Well, he left his parents’ (and thus his daughter’s) address up in the .pdfs attached to his 2007 drama, still on his website. Other facts and dates were whited out, but not the address.
    He doesn’t seem to give a shit about privacy for his kids.

  15. PAS = chest-burster? Space herpes?

    that totally went over my head, sorry. Am I missing some SyFy reference?

  16. Probably, LB was referring to the infamous scene in Alien where John Hurt’s character “gives birth” to an alien where it bursts through his chest.

    My reference was to the movie Ice Pirates where they parodied that scene with a “space herpe” bursting out of a chicken. There was a better parody scene featuring Hurt in Spaceballs but it’s just not as funny as a “space herpe”.

  17. “Oh, no! Not again!”

  18. Just finished reading it. It disturbing in that you’re supposed to feel sorry for a racist fat selfish paranoid drinking and driving no farther than high school graduate eikaiwa teacher.

    I imagine Savoie, who a lot of the main character and plot was loosely based on, and some other left behind fathers, won’t be too happy with the book either, as it uses the wrong vocabulary that those groups are trying to avoid… example: “If the Matsunagas were going to abduct his kids, he was going to abduct them back.”… although Debito goes to great care to change the re-abduction scene to one that resembles something from his own life… one of the kids rejects the father protagonist.

    don’t even get me started on the generalizations he’s made about Japanese people and society. Being afraid of blacks, “half” women being pressured to “publicly sexualize” for “leering lecherous Japanese men”, different treatment for foreigners vs Japanese in the courts, and torture during interrogation in jail. Despicably paranoid and Japan-hate filled. Every extreme anecdote to ever come out of debito.org in 100 pages.

    Perhaps Debito is trying his hat at fiction and making the lead character, Gary, a sympathetic but flawed character to make him more believable, but since you can’t help but see both Debito and Savoie heavily grafted onto this character, you wince every time the dumb Georgia redneck makes the obvious wrong choice and shoots himself in the foot.

    And by the way, 空, yes, there is an allusion to the “Nara child abduction case results in NJ father assaulted, bricked in head, computer evidence destroyed” story. The Matsunagas, who are the antagonists in this Left Behind Father wet dream, are apparently “a very powerful family” who “know many police, lawyers, and judges.” Straight from the CRC tale.

  19. KT, congratulations and commiserations on reading all the way through. :lol:

    I thought the character flaw bit was just a bit too much out of “Dummies Guide to Writing”; in the final act the flaw ends up in forgetting to buy a bottle of juice…

    Talking of episodes from Debito.org, between Narita and the hotel he managed to fit everything in bar no-one sitting beside him on the train, which was a disappointment.

    Oh, and there’s got to be some sub-text to Garito moving to Thailand only after the king issues an edict cleaning up the towns.

  20. Hi malcolmk, yes, it is a bit of a conundrum! I felt it was my duty to buy a copy, but goodness only knows KT’s motivation – masochism? :lol:

  21. KT, ahh, perhaps that is his motivation for having Aiko call Garito a gaijin?

  22. And only one mention of “Japanese only” in the whole book… the immigration line. I was sure that divorced Gary was going to try to pick up a little Fillipino massage parlor action after being divorced only to be turned away by a doorman pointing to a Japanese Only sign. :oops:

  23. I figure ¥750 yen will buy him one beer, an onigiri, and a soft drink in Sapporo (after lulu.com takes its cut). I can live with that.

    I don’t HATE the guy. I just really, really disagree with him. No matter how bad the writing is, I do like to be informed about what Americans are being taught about Japan.

    Americans will find out about this because Kyung Lah (sp?) of CNN will probably pick this up like her other bogus news… Like the Charisma Man series that probably sold less than 2,000 copies worldwide tops and the rape game that was years out of print before she did an expose on it… it’s just a matter of time before she reports on this. Even if it only sells 20 copies (12 of which were purchased by Debito himself… 10 as gifts for friends and 2 for his personal bookshelf.

  24. I guess the big question is are you two going to write up reviews for the JT? I know Dave and crew have probably already gotten theirs in and no doubt his next “column” will focus on the book so someone needs to warn the uninformed.

  25. Check please!

  26. And they’re back, even bigger than before, now with two pictures of the front cover filling up the whole of the above-the-fold area on my notebook.

  27. I just read the book. It took about an hour.

    The only thing I’m really going to take away from it is that Debito seems to have a very low opinion of women. White women appear to be sexually unappealing bitches, while Japanese women are depicted as conniving, weak-minded whores.

    Hmmm…

  28. Rob, was it you who tagged it as “superficial, monkey sex” by any chance? :lol:

  29. Lulu seems to be doing something weird with the reviews. It lists them as “Most recent” showing only 5 (most of which are highly rated.) However, if you click on “All reviews” you get two more reviews that are MORE recent and MORE accurate. WTF?

    (At least I presume it is Lulu doing it as opposed to some author trying to pad his reviews. Like even writing his/her own reviews.)

  30. Surprisingly it wasn’t me, although that is an accurate description. To paraphrase someone elses line – “this book has all the sexual politics of a Viking attack.”

  31. I have a full review of the book here, on Japan Probe: http://www.japanprobe.com/2011/05/25/book-review-in-appropriate-a-novel-of-culture-kidnapping-and-revenge-in-modern-japan/

    I spent a lot of time on this review. I tried to be as fair and as thorough as possible. Hopefully Mr Arudou will view this as constructive criticism that really boils down to two points: 1) Fiction and propaganda rarely mix well, and 2) you need to spend more than four days writing your next book.

  32. As someone who has read the book: well done. Very balanced. Well written review too.

  33. Now you just have to wait and see if certain debito fans label your very even-handed review as an “attack”. I’d wager some of them are furiously Googling about you and preparing an attempt at character assassination at this very moment…

    Will they be given an uncritical, one-sided forum to do so?

    As always, I will be happy to be proven wrong.