Kadohata, Cynthia 1956(?)-
KADOHATA, Cynthia 1956(?)-
PERSONAL: Born 1956 (some sources say 1957), in Chicago, IL. Education: Attended Los Angeles City College; received degree from University of Southern California; attended graduate programs at the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia University.
ADDRESSES: Agent—Andrew Wylie, Wylie, Aitken & Stone, Inc., 250 West 57th St., Suite 2106, New York, NY 10107.
CAREER: Writer. Worked variously as a department store clerk and waitress.
AWARDS, HONORS: Whiting Writer's Award from the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation; a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Floating World, Viking (New York, NY), 1989.
In the Heart of the Valley of Love, Viking (New York, NY), 1992.
Kira-Kira, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of short stories to periodicals, including New Yorker, Grand Street, Ploughshares, and Pennsylvania Review.
SIDELIGHTS: Cynthia Kadohata's background and experience are mirrored in her novels about young Asian-American women coming of age. Kadohata grew up in a family that moved often—to Illinois, Michigan, Georgia, Arkansas, and California. These experiences of traveling from town to town and state to state are a basic element of her first novel, The Floating World. In her second novel, In the Heart of the Valley of Love, she uses other autobiographical material. In a Publishers Weekly interview with Lisa See, Kadohata related that she has always had "paranoid dreams" about the future and writing the science fiction novel In the Heart of the Valley of Love "may have purged my fears." One episode in this book is based on a serious accident Kadohata experienced; a car jumped a curb and hit her, mangling her right arm. The author told See that writing about the incident was a way of dealing with it: "I thought this was a way for me to come out of the closet, in a sense. I have friends who have never seen my arm." Kadohata added that because she uses her own experiences in her writing, the distinction between reality and fiction is sometimes confusing. She pointed out that "sometimes I can't remember if something has happened to me or to my character. My memories become their memories, and their memories become mine."
Kadohata's debut novel, The Floating World, is told through the voice of twelve-year-old Olivia. The story depicts the journey of a Japanese-American family searching for economic and emotional security in post-World War II America. Kadohata uses Olivia's character to portray the family dynamics and interactions that occur as they travel, eat, and even sleep in the same room together. In a passage that reveals the significance of the book's title, Olivia explains this itinerant life: "We were travelling then in what she [Obasan, Olivia's grandmother] called ukiyo, the floating world. The floating world was the gas station attendants, restaurants, and jobs we depended on, the motel towns floating in the middle of fields and mountains. In old Japan, ukiyo meant the districts full of brothels, tea houses and public baths, but it also referred to change and the pleasures and loneliness change brings. For a long time, I never exactly thought of us as part of any of that, though. We were stable, travelling through an unstable world while my father looked for jobs."
In addition to the physical journey, Kadohata illustrates Olivia's internal journey in The Floating World. Due to the close quarters of her family's living arrangements, Olivia is exposed to adult issues at an early age. She witnesses the tension that exists between her parents, their quiet arguments, and even their love making. In addition, she is constantly subjected to her eccentric grandmother's frequently abusive behavior. Finally the family finds a stable home in Arkansas where Olivia matures from young teen to young adult. It is during this time that she learns to understand the ways of her parents and grandmother and to develop her own values. Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Grace Edwards-Yearwood commended this portrayal, pointing out that "Kadohata writes compellingly of Olivia's coming of age, her determination to grow beyond her parents' dreams."
The Floating World received many favorable reviews. Diana O'Hehir in the New York Times Book Review claimed that Kadohata's "aim and the book's seem to be one: to present the world affectionately and without embroidery. To notice what's there. To see it as clearly as you can." Caroline Ong, a Times Literary Supplement contributor, defined the narrative of The Floating World as "haunting because of its very simplicity and starkness, its sketchy descriptions fleshing out raw emotions and painful truths." Susanna Moore, writing in the Washington Post Book World, judged that The Floating World would be a better book if it had been written in the style of a memoir. But, she conceded that "Kadohata has written a book that is a child's view of the floating world, a view that is perceptive, unsentimental and intelligent." New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani praised Kadohata's ability to handle painful moments with humor and sensitivity. The reviewer concluded these "moments not only help to capture the emotional reality of these people's lives in a delicate net of images and words, but they also attest to Ms. Kadohata's authority as a writer. The Floating World marks the debut of a luminous new voice in fiction."
In the Heart of the Valley of Love is a futuristic novel concerning survival and quality of life in Los Angeles in the year 2052. In this world Kadohata pits the haves and have-nots against one another. Both are gun-toting communities without morals, law, or order. Amidst this chaos, the main character, a nineteen-year-old orphan of Asian and African descent named Francie, relates her story of endurance. Some critics found this second novel relatively disappointing. Barbara Quick in the New York Times Book Review criticized the book for lack of conviction and imagination, and further noted that the main character, with only a few alterations, is the same as Kadohata's earlier protagonist. In a similar vein, Michiko Kakutani argued that "unfortunately, Ms. Kadohata's vision of the future is not sufficiently original or compelling. . . . Heart of the Valley is an uncomfortable hybrid: a pallid piece of futuristic writing, and an unconvincing tale of coming of age." The reviewer noted, however, that "the writing in this volume is lucid and finely honed, often lyrical and occasionally magical." Other reviewers, however, were thoroughly impressed by Kadohata's work. Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Susan Heeger lauded Kadohata as "masterful in her evocation of physical, spiritual and cultural displacement. . . . The message of this marvelous though often painful book is that our capacity to feel deep emotion—our own and others'—just might bind us together, and save us from ourselves."
Kadohata's status as a new voice for Japanese Americans has brought the author both satisfaction and frustration. Writing in the Globe and Mail, Rui Umezawa praised her work: "This is perhaps the greatest joy in reading works of writers from this newly formed tradition. The reader gets a view of another culture from both the inside and the outside. Concepts previously thought foreign suddenly become accessible—at times even moving—making a mockery of pessimistic academics who declare that true understanding of another culture is an impossible dream." In the interview with See, Kadohata summarized her thoughts about the significance of being an Asian-American writer: "For the first time in my life, I saw that there could be expectations of me not only as a writer but as an Asian-American writer. On the one hand, I felt like, 'Leave me alone.' On the other hand, I thought, 'This is a way I can assert my Asianness.' I wrote the book, and I'm Asian, and I'm the only person who could have written it." At the same time, however, Kadohata has weathered criticism that her work is historically inaccurate because it does not conform to the experience of other Japanese Americans, and even that she has been "socially irresponsible" in presenting Obasan as a flawed and difficult character. This type of thinking, the author told See, is misguided. "One Japanese interviewer . . . asked me if in The Floating World I was saying that all Japanese grandmothers are abusive and in conflict with themselves. Of course not! Obasan was a character in a novel—not a person representing all Japanese grandmothers. He said that Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston were catering to white people, but I think they and other Asian-American writers are just writing from their hearts. Why should their work or my work stand for all Asians? That's impossible."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kadohata, Cynthia, The Floating World, Viking (New York, NY), 1989.
Amerasia Journal, winter, 1997, Lynn M. Itagaki, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 229.
America, November 18, 1989, Eve Shelnutt, review of The Floating World, p. 361.
Antioch Review, winter, 1990, review of The Floating World, p. 125.
Belles Lettres, spring, 1993, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 46.
Booklist, June 15, 1992, Gilbert Taylor, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 1807.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 5, 1989.
Library Journal, June 15, 1992, Cherry W. Li, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 102.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 16, 1989, p. 12; August 23, 1992, pp. 1, 8; May 2, 1993, review of The Floating World, p. 10.
New York Times, June 30, 1989, Michiko Kakutani, review of The Floating World, p. B4; July 28, 1992, Michiko Kakutani, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. C15.
New York Times Book Review, July 23, 1989, Diana O'Hehir, review of The Floating World, p. 16; August 30, 1992, Barbara Quick, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 14.
Publishers Weekly, May 12, 1989, review of The Floating World, p. 279; June 1, 1992, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 51; August 3, 1992, Lisa See, "Cynthia Kadohata," pp. 48-49.
School Library Journal, January, 1990, Anne Paget, review of The Floating World, p. 127.
Time, June 19, 1989, review of The Floating World, p. 65.
Times Literary Supplement, December 29, 1989, Caroline Ong, review of The Floating World, p. 1447.
U.S. News & World Report, December 26, 1988, Miriam Horn and Nancy Linnon, "New Cultural Worlds," p. 101.
Washington Post Book World, June 25, 1989, pp. 5, 7; August 16, 1992, p. 5.*