Saturday, June 21, 2008

Losing Kei by Suzanna Kamata and Flight of the Dragonfly by Melissa Hawach


PAGES: 196

PRICE: $14.95 / Paperback Original

Pub Date: January 2008

This month I find myself reading two books with a similar theme - not by design, just mere coincidence. The theme? Child custody.

One, "Losing Kei", has been written by writer and fellow blogger Suzanne Kamata, whose blog "Gaijin Mama" I have been reading for a while now. Not only does it give me great insights to parenting but also shows me a Japan that one doesn't always read about in books.

"Losing Kei" is an easy-to-read contemporary story (fiction) about an American landscape artist (Jill Parker) who travels to Japan to get over a heart break. Whilst there she meets and marries a traditional Japanese man (Kukume).

Kamata, an American married to a Japanese man, does an excellent job showing the reader how when two very different cultures meet there could be clashes, especially in the area of marriage, inlaws, bringing up the children and so on.

The Japanese tend to be a highly homogenized society and very often will be wary with foreigners. Jill's inlaws did not approve their son's choice of a bride but accepted it because it pleased their son. Jill was expected to live in her inlaws' home and was also expected to play the role of a subservient wife and eager-to-please daughter-in-law, something that was totally alien to her independent upbringing. Cracks soon formed in the relationship forcing Jill to ask for a divorce. What she hadn't bargained on however, was that she would have to give up custody of Kei due to Japanese custody laws which state that a foreigner has no rights to custody! Indeed, even when both parents are Japanese it is not uncommon for children of divorced parents to be told one of their parents is dead - case in point, former PM Koizumi. When he divorced his pregnant wife he retained custody of his eldest son and the wife was never allowed to see or meet him. Anyway, so Jill sees no way out but to arrange to smuggle Kei out of the country....does she have the guts to do it? Will she get away with it? You'll have to read the book to find out!

Format: Hardcover

May 13, 2008

288 Pages

Harpercollins Canada, Limited

"Flight of the Dragonfly" is the true story of how Canadian mom Melissa Hawach fought to get her children (Hannah,5 and Cedar,3) back after they had been abducted by her Lebanese-Australian husband, Joe Hawach and taken to Lebanon during the height of the Hezbollah-Israeli war.

I remember reading about this incident (it was all over the papers) in 2006 and I thought Melissa's story would make a good book (especially because the way she went about bringing the girls back home was particularly dangerous and had a potentially nail-biting ending) but sadly, something about the tone of the book fell flat for me.

Try as I might, I just could not evoke feelings of anxiety for Melissa, nor did I find myself feeling any sort of tension through the proceedings. Even worse, despite the awful thing that happened to her, she didn't quite cut a sympathetic character in my eyes. Also, the book bounced about quite a bit taking us from Sydney in Australia to Calgary in Canada back to Sydney, to Lebanon and so on, in no particular order. Perhaps my ambiguity had to do with the writing which I am told was heavily edited for possible libel or perhaps it had to do with the fact that Hawach simply narrates the's just details upon more details. What the reader is going to want and doesn't receive, are discussions of feelings and emotions..

No real explanation is given for why Joe Hawach felt he had to abduct his children despite having visitation certainly made me think about parental abduction and how and why it happens.
It saddened me to read that the mercenaries hired by Melissa to abduct the kids from Lebanon were family men themselves and while she managed to return to Canada safe and sound, the two men were arrested in Sydney and kept in jail for three months! What I did like about her however, is that she doesn't seem embittered by what she's gone through. She allows they girls to speak to their father once a week on webcam and even entertains the thought of taking them to visit him in Australia some day.


Sanjay said...

How are you my friend? I hope you are having a good summer so far. Glad to see a post from you. Interesting how you read two books about the same topic and yet they are so vastly different in scope and the sensibilities they bring to what is certainly a difficult subject.

While I knew that Japanese society tends to be homogenized and wary of outsiders, I was taken aback by the inequalities in their child custody laws that seem to favor men. It is so very cruel to be told that one of the parents is dead.

I did not know about the former PM Koizumi's story either. How unfair to the women! My heart also went out to the character Jill and her situation. Does the book talk about the coming together of Jill and Kukume? Jill's complete lack of rights simply for being a foreigner when it came to custody law also is news to me.

I was consumed with curiosity about the fate of Kei, and thank you for leaving me with a desire to read this book to find out! :)

I am sorry that you did not like the Hawach book but perhaps it was because the books were about child custody but one was fiction and the other non-fiction? The former lends itself to literary license while the latter has to be grounded in fact and not to forget edited for libel. Also Hawach might simply not be a great narrator.
Could Joe Hawach's abduction of his children be attributed to some extent to the fact that he came from a conservative cultural background and one that is patriarchial?
Were the mercenaries imprisoned because they broke some law in Australia? I suppose it says something about the principals involved that the father has not been completely shut out of their lives despite what he did

Thank you for a wonderful post and sharing your thoughts with us. Please have a wonderful weekend and a great summer ahead.

Praveen G K said...


Looking forward to reading Losing Kei!!! Nice review, and especially, it is always fun to read books that brings about the clash of different cultures in a nice way. The theme itself is so evoking!!

Good review as usual :-)

apu said...

I was looking forward to your next review! Losing Kei does sound worth a read. The secone one - as one of the previous commentors mentioned, it could be due because while the story itself is interesting, perhaps she is not such a great storyteller..also, maybe telling your own story is tough? It is perhaps difficult to muster up enough objectivity, to see what would interest the reader.

Bybee said...

These books seem both harrowing and interesting. I'm under the impression that Korea is a lot like Japan re divorce laws, but don't know for sure...just little odds and ends I've gotten from some of my students who have shared their life stories.

Srijith Unni said...

Losing kei sounds interesting..! I didn`yt know much about Japanese Society, Shall look out for this one.

With Best Regards,

heather (errantdreams) said...

I don't know why, but I just can't read books about this sort of topic. I find it too depressing. Maybe because of watching my parents go through a bitter divorce when I was 8, and being all too able to imagine being stuck with one parent or cut off from another. If I'd been forced to live with my father and told that my mother was dead or that I'd never see her again... it would have felt like the end of the world.

Angela in Europe said...

It's ashame that the Hawach book falls flat. I remember hearing about the actual case as well. I guess it just goes to show that editing can really ruin a book!

d SINNER!!! said...

think i wud read 'losing kei'...

b/w gr8 blog...keep it up..

Jyothsna said...

Hi Lotus, how have you been? Losing Kei seems to evoke the readers emotions. But telling the child one parent is dead is so wicked! Will keep this book in mind.

Lulu said...

hi lotus,
you've got me very interested in this book. i've also bookmarked the gaijin mama blog and read it often. i find it fascinating to peep into other cultures. thanks for another great find.
hope your summer is going well.

Id it is said...

I haven't read either of these two; Hawach's novel appealed to me so I've put it on my summer reading list.

I got to watch The Mongol (first part) and it was quite the disappointment though I've yet to figure out the precise reason for feeling that way. As of now I think the movie did not measure up to the expectation I had of it especially when I compared it to Weatherford's novel on Genghis Khan. Did you enjoy the movie?

Bookfool said...

Hi Lotus!

I'm so glad to see that you've posted some reviews! I've missed you!!

Excellent reviews, as always. Losing Kei sounds like one I'd enjoy. You have me aching to find out how things ended.

Anali said...

Hi Lotus! I was glad to see another post. : )

The story of Melissa sounds very familiar. I must have heard about it in the news when it was happening. It sounds like it didn't all come together in the book though. Sad situation regardless.

tanabata said...

Hi Lotus!
Hope you're having a good summer so far.
Losing Kei sounds good and like something I'd be interested in reading. I was surprised too when I first learned that after divorce, children only belong to one parent. It stems back to Japan's antiquated family register system, but still!

J at said...

I'm going to have to guess that Losing Kei ends with her spiriting him away. But that is an abduction as well, and he has a right to know his father. So perhaps, hopefully, the story isn't quite so simplistic as that.

Radha said...

Can't begin to imagine what a mother would've gone thru when her kids are abducted by her ex-husband. Must be a nightmare!

You make a good point abt clash of cultures within marriages. Nice reviews both.

Lotus Reads said...

First of, I want to thank everyone for the comments and I'd like to apologize for taking so long to get back to you all of you.

@Sanjay ~ Yes, I, too was baffled by the custody laws...even in the UAE, where some of these laws tend to be fairly archaic, I haven't heard of something this cruel! I have to wonder what it does to these children to find out later in life that they actually do have both parents?

You make many good points about the Hawatch book. I guess it just boils down to the very simple fact that Hawatch is not a good narrator. She had all the elements for a wonderfully engaging story, but she fails to move her audience.

Lotus Reads said...

@Praveen ~ Hi! Yes, I was intrigued with the theme. Family law, especially how it differs in many countries, has always fascinated me!

@Apu ~ Great insights into why the Hawatch story didn't work. I agree, it is difficult to tell one's one story effectively, especially if one is not a writer by profession. But then, she is published by the renowned Harper and Collins and would have had a few editors at her disposal. A little teamwork would have helped make the story more engaging.

@Bybee ~ Thanks for the input. I Japanese and Korean culture simply fascinating!

Lotus Reads said...

@Srijith ~ I love books written by expats. They have the ability to experience a society and culture from within and afar and their insights are tremendous. This is why perhaps I enjoyed "Losing Kei" so much. It is written by an American author who is married to a Japanese.

Lotus Reads said...

@Heather ~ *hugs* I do understand. It's hard to read about something that is so close to home. I often think about these children and what they must feel for the parent they live with once they discover that the other parent wasn't dead after all. *shudder* What a horrible thing to do to a child.

Lotus Reads said...

@Angela ~ Yes, for sure, I have to wonder now what exactly they left out!

@d' sinner ~ Merci! Thank you for visiting!

@Jyothsna ~ Hey!!! What's cookin'? ;) Forgot to mention, "Losing Kei" is quite a slim book too. I think I finished reading it in about two days.

Lotus Reads said...

@Lulu ~ Hey and happy summer! Yes, thanks, we're having a great time and have just finalized our trip to Cambodia. I'm going to take a leaf out of your book and enroll for a cooking course while I'm there! How are you keeping?

Lotus Reads said...

@Id ~ I'm glad you shared how you felt about the movie. I think you felt that way because you were expecting the movie to be like the book? The movie is probably not that lofty, but it's wonderful in its own way. I loved the fact that this movie was made by a Russian film maker. As you know, Russia has always had a very hostile relationship with Mongolia and in that country Genghis Khan is reviled like no other historic figure. So to see a Russian show us a gentler side of The Khan was most unusual. Also, I loved the cinematography, the music, the wide open spaces, the amazing battle formations, the storytelling....everything appealed to me.

I suppose a movie like this is bound to fall through the cracks. It doesn't have enough blood and gore to appeal to the younger generation and it has too much of that to appeal to film buffs who usually watch movies that make the film festival circuit.

I hope the second half is better for you!

Lotus Reads said...

@Bookfool ~ Thank you for saying that! I've missed you too and all my other blogger friends as well. Hopefully things will improve in the Fall, after we return from India. Things have been much too hectic this year.

@Anali ~ Hi! regardless of Melissa Hawatch's writing style, her story is a gripping one and I'm sorry she had to go through what she did. Sadly, I just wasn't engaged, or maybe it's just me.

Lotus Reads said...

@Nat ~ Hi~ Yes, we're having a great summer. How are you doing? You have me intrigued...what is/was the Japanese family register system?

@J ~ Hello! You're right, it's more than that. Want me to send you my copy? Nice to see you here!

@Radha ~ Thank you! So Cambodia it is! Thanks for helping me make up my mind!

Id it is said...

Thank you for making me see "The Mongol" in a different light! You're right, for a Russian to have presented Genghis the way he did does suggest change, one that should be applauded.
I will after all see the second part; thanks to you!

tanabata said...

Hi Lotus! Here's a link that explains a bit better than I can. But essentially it is the national registry that every one in Japan is listed on. Each family has their own "koseki" (family register) and the family line carries on through the oldest born son. Other sons, start their own family register descended from the original one but separate. From what I understand, women, when they marry, are removed from their parents register and added to the one that their husband belongs to, or heads. You can only belong to one family register, which is why the children then can only 'belong' to one parent because after divorce the wife would be removed from that register. It takes more effort to have the children removed also especially if the 'head' of that line doesn't support it. It all dates back to Japan's feudal past apparently.

BTW, I'm reading an interesting NF book right now, Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation by Michael Zielenziger. It's interesting but making me feel rather blue about the state of modern Japanese society. :(

Lotus Reads said...

@Id ~ I hope you do! :) Another thing I forgot to mention...this movie is the first of a trilogy on The Khan, so there's lots to look forward to! :)

Lotus Reads said...

@Nat ~ Whoa! That was an interesting piece of information. I had no idea that the woman was cut off from her family register and added on to that of her husband's. Scary thought, especially because when the marriage sours it's like you don't really belong anywhere. Thanks so much for enlightening me on this fascinating aspect of Japan society/marriage.

I also want to read "Shutting Out the Sun", thanks so much for the recommendation, I will be ordering it soon!

throttle said...

Since very few children have been successfully removed Japan, none legally. this should be an interesting book. I only know factually of the failed reabductions. Typically the Japanese parenteffectively abducts the child from the non Japanese parent especially when the family is outside of Japan.

Anonymous said...

Hi there : )
Why do people (society in general) still pre-judge people with body art. women especially?
I'm a twenty six year old F, have 11 tats, lots of which cannot be spotted on my daily travels. 5 To 6 during the summer are pretty much constantly on display. I don't struggle for attention and i also have a loving boyfriend Without Any TATTOOS .I get the impression that a lot of people think that tattooed people are blind, as we get stared at, even if we return a glance people carry on looking. When will society improve?