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Book Review: Life in the Cul-de-Sac

Kuroi, Senji.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuroi_Senji (2001)  Life in the cul-de-sac.  Trans. Gabriel, Philip.  Berkeley:  Stone Bridge Press.   The Rock Spring Collection of Japanese Literature.

Six families are neighbors on plots of land adjacent to a dead-end road, thus the title of this multi-perspective novel, Life in the cul-de-sac.    Apart from a chapter dedicated to young passers-by and another chapter written from the perspective of a visitor, ten other chapters belong to four resident families who live in the neighborhood, often emphasizing women characters challenged by inter-relational issues, whether with a life-partner, child/ren, or neighbor(s).   An exception is that of a young married man in his early 30’s without children, whose wife is often absent at night.   Three couples without children represent three distinct generations, with two of the couples being empty nesters.   Two families with children of various ages complete the picture with all types of Japanese suburban middle-class people being represented.

The vocabulary is straightforward and suitable for middle school or high school.  However, voyeuristic depiction of sexuality ranging from premarital sex to adultery and incidents involving indecent exposure suggests a mature audience, perhaps sophomores and up.   Universal issues such as latchkey children, sexual maturation of children, aging parents, job-related relocation, and remodeling a home after retirement for rental income are more accessible to older high school students as well and can help the readers relate to these characters from a different culture.   The translator’s afterword and biographical note at the back of the book both contain helpful clues for further reflection. 

Considered to be one of the twenty most important Japanese novels of the last twenty years, the portrait of a neighborhood in Life in the cul-de-sac reflects the influence of Sherwood Anderson’s 1919 classic Winesburg, Ohio

Students pursuing AP English or those studying Japanese as a foreign language or advanced ESL students with exposure to Japanese culture might be particularly interested in reading this book. It is also suitable for college students pursuing a degree in Japanese literature.