Book review by Gracy Samjetsabam
Title: The Baseball Widow
Author: Suzanne Kamata
Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing (2021)
Suzanne Kamata is an American writer, academic, and a fiction editor, who resides in the Tokushima Prefecture, Japan. She has authored or edited 14 books including, memoirs and award-winning books. Her anthology The Broken Bridge: Fiction from Expatriates in Literary Japan (1997) was nominated for the Kiriyama Prize. She is a winner in the best novel category of the Half the World Global Literati Award. The Baseball Widow (2021) is her latest book.
The Baseball Widow (2021) is the tale of the life and aspirations of a passionate young American teacher Christine as she juggles through encounters in a multi-cultural setting and with having a child with special needs. Christine falls in love and marries Hideki Yamada, an aspiring Japanese high school baseball coach despite the complicacies that may arise due to cultural differences. She settles down with Hideki in Japan with dreams of teaching English and travelling to lower income Asian and African countries to help the underprivileged with English language skills.
Their daughter Emma has cerebral palsy. She is wheelchair bound and communicates through sign language. Emma is named with love after Queen Emma of Hawaii (1836-1885), who promoted a multicultural outlook. Their younger son Koji is sensitive and undergoes bullying in school because of having a specially abled sister. Stereotypes and societal judgments over their cross-cultural marriage, having a child that needs frequent hospital visits and extra care, and the other child getting harassed in school are a constant sources of anxiety for Christine and Hideki. Moreover, Hideki’s wholehearted dedication as a coach, who considers his baseball team as his first “family” and as someone who takes the demands of his job seriously, heightens Christine’s responsibility as a wife and a mother in the family.
The story has a lot to offer for cross-cultural enthusiasts. Through a host of characters, one gets to look closely into some aspects of life in Japan and into a mish mash of cultures. Interestingly, Kamata also manages to juxtapose the perspectives of Japanese and Americans on baseball as a sport, schooling, varying rituals of birthday celebrations, ways of coping with old age, accent issues, food culture, mannerism, a father-daughter relationship that Kamata calls “skinship” and so on. The story takes a larger overtone as it gives a glimpse of experiences on the notion of the term “Hafu”, which means a Japanese biracial. Half-Japanese or half-American, both in Japan or in America, such persons seem to face more societal hurdles than advantages. Additionally, the main plot along with the other sub-plots has a lot more to speak about relatable experiences of cross-cultural encounters in terms of love, education, health, travel, companionship, and the expectations and realities of life and relationships in general.
Kamata gives a unique take on disabilities and disparities of life experiences through Christine and her family’s experience with their own family and society. As parents, Christine and Hideki tried to cater to the needs of both the children and stay strong. Even though, their family was often subjected to gossip and rumours born of Emma’s condition, they reconciled to her disability. As Koji was victimised, they struggled to change him to a private school. They struggled to make life better for their children and family.
The story runs in two parts. In the first part, Kamata takes the reader back and forth from present day to a flashback as she introduces us to the story and the myriad themes of the novel. The story starts with Christine and her views on Japan and her life in Japan. She sets off to Thailand on a mission to help Cambodian refugees. She walks through her dream of helping needy and disenfranchised kids exploring the bigger questions of dreams and reality, love and longing, and the purpose of life. Experiencing a sort of “compassion fatigue” and looking at the brighter side of life, she returns to Hideki and Japan with hopes for a better future. Hideki coaching the baseball team at the Tokushima Kita High School dreams big and works hard to secure a place for his team to the prestigious national baseball tournament at Koshien. Kamata beautifully portrays how life is complicated with love, dreams and responsibilities through the shorter stories within the framework of the main narrative.
Part two of the novel takes a new turn as Christine comes to her mother’s place in South Carolina for a vacation and she meets her old school friend Andrew, an American Iraq War vet, whom she got to reconnect through the Internet. A fatal attraction and an affair ensued to bring out the raw side of reality. Hideki speculates saying, “… there was no such thing as pure joy, that even the greatest happiness was tarnished somehow, temporary, but worth striving for all the same”. Christine motionlessly undergoes strong emotions as she sees Hideki in the hospital. He too reminisces over lost time with Christine that he over dedicated to his career and reaches out to Christine to start all over again saying, “… Please come home”.
The Baseball Widow is a gripping novel that powerfully explores issues of responsibility, disability, discrimination, violence, dreams, love, longing, health, career, parenting, youth and old age through a cross-cultural spectacle. Hope and forgiveness overrule the human flaws in the story. Christine positively declares “everything is fine!” about Emma’s disabilities to rise about the surprise, pity, apologies and embarrassment of daily encounters. Beautifully embellished with an exquisite watercolour artwork cover by Giorgio Gosti, dark yet shaded in harmony, humour and positivity, The Baseball Widow will touch lives across ages, genders and cultures.
Gracy Samjetsabam is a research scholar at the Manipal Institute of Communication (MIC), MAHE, Manipal. She is also a freelance writer and copy editor. Her interest is in Indian English Writings, Comparative Literature, Gender Studies, Culture Studies, and World Literature.
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