Goto, Hiromi 1966-
GOTO, Hiromi 1966-
PERSONAL: Born December 31, 1966, in Chiba-ken, Japan; daughter of Toranobu (a mushroom farmer) and Kyoko (a mushroom farmer) Goto; children: two. Ethnicity: "Japanese." Education: University of Calgary, B.A., 1989.
CAREER: Writer. Crowsnest Writers Retreat and Workshop, organizer and administrator, summers, 1993-94; National Association of Japanese Canadians Summer Youth Camp, facilitator, 1995; Women of Colour Collective of Calgary Creative Writing Workshops for Aboriginal Women and Women of Colour, facilitator, 1998. Calgary Minquon Panchayat, member, 1993-95. Gives readings and performances from her work nationally and internationally.
MEMBER: Writers' Union of Canada (cochair of Racial Minority Writers Committee, 1995-97).
AWARDS, HONORS: Commonwealth Writer's Prize for best first book, Canada and Caribbean region, 1995, and Arts Canada-Japan Book Award, Canada Council, 1997, both for Chorus of Mushrooms; James Tiptree, Jr. Award for The Kappa Child, 2001.
Tea (poems and art work), disOrientation Chapbooks (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), 1992.
Chorus of Mushrooms (novel), NeWest (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada), 1994.
(Contributor) Christl Verduyn, Literary Pluralities, JCS-Broadview Press (Peterborough, Ontario, Canada), 1998.
The Kappa Child (novel), Red Deer College Press (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), 2001.
The Water of Possibility (young adult novel), illustrated by Aries Cheung, Coteau Books (Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada), 2002.
Work represented in anthologies, including Due West, edited by Aritha van Herk, NeWest Press (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada), 1996; Making a Difference: Canadian Multicultural Literature, edited by Smaro Kamboureli, Oxford University Press (Don Mills, Ontario, Canada), 1996; and eye wuz here, edited by Shannon Cooley, Douglas & McIntyre (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1996. Contributor of short stories, articles, critical essays, and poems to periodicals, including Ms., West Coast Line, Cameo, and Prairie Fire. Member of editorial collective, absinthe, 1992-97.
SIDELIGHTS: Canadian author Hiromi Goto "consciously introduces markers from Japanese culture into her works," according to Yoshio Iwamoto, writing in World Literature Today. Through the use of Japanese myths, legends, and mythical characters such as the "kappa," or supernatural frog-like trickster creature, she "adds a different way of thinking, or of visualizing or interacting in the world," as Goto noted in an interview with Debbie Notkin for the Women's Review of Books. "Bringing Japanese myths into contemporary human stories layers the reading of a story so that it moves beyond the limitations of contemporary realism into unpredictable terrain," Goto added. "I don't want to have complacent and relaxed-almost-falling-asleep readers. I want my readers to feel unsettled."
Goto's first novel, Chorus of Mushrooms, was published when she was twenty-eight. The novel has been praised by reviewers and has earned its author the Commonwealth Writer's Prize as well as the Arts Canada-Japan Award for its "authentic sense of the difficulty experienced by a young Japanese-Canadian woman caught between the pull of assimilation and the hunger to come to terms with her Japanese heritage," according to a Canada Council for the Arts press release.
Published in 1994, Chorus of Mushrooms tells the story of a Japanese-Canadian grandmother, mother, and daughter living on the prairies of Alberta. In an effort to assimilate as a North American, the mother, Keiko, "forgot" her native language and abandoned her culture after she and her husband arrived in Canada. She changed her name to Kaye, and has learned to cook lasagna, wieners, and beans. The grandmother, Naoe, held tightly to her heritage, however; in the novel she is shown sitting by the front door in her rocker, telling stories and folk-tales in Japanese to her granddaughter, Muriel. Muriel is both Japanese and Canadian; she learns to cook Japanese cuisine, later learns the language, and lives in both cultures. She is also the narrator who passes on her grandmother's stories and the family's culinary conflicts.
Muriel tells of Naoe's adventures: after twenty years of living "in exile," the elderly woman swipes Kaye's MasterCard, abandons her rocker, and hitchhikes away with a cowboy-music-loving trucker who has recently visited Japan; her baggage includes a jar of seaweed paste and a six-pack of beer. She later becomes a rodeo star at the Calgary Stampede, where she is known as the Purple Mask because of her costume. Naoe renames her granddaughter Murasaki—which means purple, and is also the name of a famous Japanese storyteller. Murasaki's task in the novel is to heal the gap between her mother and grandmother while at the same time establishing her own transcultural identity. According to Guy Beauregard, reviewing Goto's novel in Canadian Literature, Chorus of Mushrooms is "an unqualified gem … engaging, original, and extremely funny." Commented Maureen McCallum Garvie in a review for Books in Canada, "Chorus of Mushrooms's urgent theme … is the crippling effects of denying race and past in order to blend with a colourless culture in a new country."
The prairies of Alberta figure in two more novels from Goto, The Kappa Child and her young adult novel, The Water of Possibility. With her award-winning The Kappa Child, Goto delivers a "delightful, wholly original book, a multilayered story of dysfunctional family life, unexpected pregnancy, true friendship, alien abduction, budding romance, and intimate encounters with mythical creatures," as a contributor to the Women's Review of Books noted. Goto serves up a Japanese-Canadian take on Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie series. But in Goto's version, the family is hardly the comforting center as it is in Wilder's books; instead, the four sisters of the family try desperately to escape both family and prairie. Their father moved the family there from lush British Columbia, filled with optimism about growing rice in Alberta. But lack of water makes this dream more fantasy than reality. The story is told from the point of view of the second of the four sisters, living in the big city and lately made pregnant by a kappa with whom she wrestled on the tarmac of the local airport. The tale has a fabulist, science fiction element to it and goes back and forth in time from the modern day to the time when the four girls were growing up on the prairie. Another subplot involves the mother's separation from the husband and acknowledgment that she had once been abducted by aliens. Iwamoto commented that Goto's novel is "fragmented in the manner of postmodern fiction" and deals with all these themes in "short, cosmically tinted meditations" that are "sometimes hilariously related." For Iwamoto, The Kappa Child "presents with exuberance a mélange of people, things, and ideas." Similarly, Sook C. Kong, writing in Herizons, felt that Goto "brings her readers a magnetic tale of love, romance and dream amidst the unholy tides of violence that oppressed peoples all too often face." Kong went on to observe that "one of [Goto's] outstanding traits is her ability to quite exquisitely juxtapose the cosmically poetic with the everyday concerns of life."
Many of these same concerns appear in Goto's first novel for young readers, The Water of Possibility. Again the setting is the Canadian prairie, and once more legend and myth play an integral part in the tale. Twelve-year-old Sayuri is saddened when her family moves from the city to a small town in Alberta, but her disappointment is assuaged when she and her younger brother discover a magic realm as they go through their cellar door. This fanciful kingdom is populated by beings from Japanese folklore, and soon the brother, Keiji, wanders off and is captured by the Patriarch, a powerful fox. Sayuri, with some help from a kappa, must rescue her brother and vanquish the Patriarch in this "heroic quest," as Jon Rozhon described the book in the Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal. Despite some "awkward" writing and a facile conclusion, School Library Journal contributor Eva Mitnick still found the book a "fascinating read." And Kong, again writing in Herizons, thought that Goto "produced a vividly told tale of adventures and surprises," and one that would appeal to both juvenile readers and adults.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Books in Canada, September, 1994, Maureen McCallum Garvie, review of Chorus of Mushrooms, p. 55.
Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal, spring, 2003, Jon Rozhon, review of The Water of Possibility, pp. 216-217.
Canadian Literature, summer, 1996, Guy Beauregard, review of Chorus of Mushrooms, p. 114.
Herizons, spring, 2002, Sook C. Kong, review of The Water of Possibility, p. 35; summer, 2002, Sook C. Kong, review of The Kappa Child, p. 31.
School Library Journal, August, 2002, Eva Mitnick, review of The Water of Possibility, p. 188.
Women's Review of Books, July, 2002, review of The Kappa Child, Debbie Notkin, interview with Hiromi Goto, pp. 17-18.
World Literature Today, April-June, 2003, Yoshio Iwamoto, review of The Kappa Child, pp. 102-103.
Canada Council for the Arts, http://www.canadacouncil.ca/ccnews/canjap-e.htm/ (March 12, 1997).
Hiromi Goto Home Page, http://www.eciad.bc.ca/~amathur/hiromi_goto (October 26, 2002).
Local Spotlight, http://www.su.ualberta.ca/gateway/1997/sept09/enter/local-spotlight.html/ (1997).*
New Asia Pacific Review, http://www.bookwire.com/ NAPR (1996).