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Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese…

Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America

by Linda Furiya

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Interesting story but the writing's not so great The title and premise had me intrigued. The author, a first generation Japanese American, writes a memoir looking what it was like to grow up in Indiana where there were no other Japanese families in the near vicinity. A story of food, of growing up in a place where no one else looks like you except your family and navigating growing up as an "American" child and teenager.
Her story is an interesting one, from how her parents met (they had an arranged marriage) to what it was like growing up in Indiana. However, the writing is terrible. Although I could feel for her at certain points, understood some of experiences, recognized much of what happened to her is an experience many immigrants/children of immigrants share, etc. I found it to be tough to get through. The writing can be disjointed and really needed a better editor. 
It's a pity because a lot of what she says will likely resonate with the children of immigrants. From having to translate/speak for the parents (because of the language barrier) to wanting to be more like the other kids when it comes to something like what you have in your lunch bag/box, etc. I'd bet a lot of first generation children would recognize a lot of Furiya's experiences, even if they don't share the same background.
I also liked the stories surrounding the food. Once again food is very much an interesting and important vehicle for immigrants/children of immigrants and it's interesting to see how this affects Furiya growing up. From what's in her lunchbox to trying out wasabi to how some foods eventually leave a bad memory due to a really creepy man (luckily it appears nothing happened) we see the role food plays for her and her family.
I think a lot of people who are looking to read about her story or would like to understand what it's like to be a part of the only Japanese family for miles around might enjoy this. She does include recipes, but no pictures. I recommend the library for this, although I didn't mind paying for a used copy. Wouldn't make a huge effort to hunt this one down though. ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America by Linda Furiya (2006, Seal Press, an imprint of Avalon Publishing Group) is a food memoir. I bought this book about four years ago, and finally got around to reading it.

Linda Furiya was born in a small, rural town in Indiana to Japanese parents. Furiya came of age in the 1970s and early 1980s, and for most of her school years, was the only Asian girl at her school. Not surprisingly, she felt a strong sense of not fitting in. Many of her memories are of food; such as the long trips that she and her family would make to the big city, with ice chests in the back of the car, to buy Japanese foods and fresh fish, to be later eaten Japanese style.

At times, I felt that this memoir might actually be a collection of the columns Furiya wrote for the San Franscisco Chronicle. Although there is no notification of anything having been previously published, it still felt like some of the stories overlapped. For instance, I found quite a few sentences began with “When I was eight years old….”

Feeling out of place because the parents are different in some way is not an unique type of memoir. However, I felt that the strongest part of Furiya’s memoir was when she discusses how her family often attended Cincinatti Japanese American Citizens League events. As she became a teenager, she began to be more conscious of interactions between the people and the stories they discussed, such as their World War II memories — some had the experience of being interred here in the United States; some came to the U.S. later.

Furiya says: “I should have stayed home the day I went to the last potluck dinner I’d ever attend. I was sixteen, much older than the children who were obligated to be there because they were too young to stay home alone”. She then tells us about Thomas and Mochiko, a couple at the potluck. Put it simply, Thomas is a creep (a white American) who treats his wife Mochiko, a war bride, like a servant; and then later he leers at the young Furiya. I was angry along with Furiya as she relates the story and how she felt unable to stand up to all of the outrageous comments Thomas was making. Her mom just says, “He’s just an old GI”.

Overall, though, in spite of not being totally seamless, Bento Box in the Heartland is a readable memoir, especially if you like “foodie” books. There are recipes throughout, some of which I want to try. ( )
  ValerieAndBooks | Jun 6, 2011 |
Given to me by Kathleen at the post office. How sweet she is, definately will read after When the Soul Mends
What a wonderful story of a Japanese girl growing up in America. So many wonderful food stories and recipes, i crave Japanese food!! Highly recommend !
  NWADEL | Oct 9, 2008 |
I'm a sucker for a food memoir, so I snatched this off the library's "New" shelf on a whim. It was both better and not as good as I was hoping.

The good:
This didn't need to be a food memoir, though the food was a powerful symbol of the author's "otherness" within the community, while underscoring the unity of her family. (This look at otherness reminded me a bit of Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America, about a Lubavitcher community in Iowa.
I come from a fairly liberal community, and didn't discover that people actually said racist things in real life (as opposed to in after-school specials) until I was an adult. This book, therefore, was a real eye-opener for me. The author didn't make melodrama out of her encounters with prejudice, but told them plainly, adding to the emotional impact.

The not-so: While the food aspect was an interesting facet of the struggles of growing up Japanese in small-town Indiana, the conceit of making every chapter figure food prominently and the inclusion of recipes often felt forced, as if she were struggling to make the narrative work within that frame. The writing, at times, also bordered on overly flowery and descriptive. ( )
  SelimaCat | Nov 24, 2007 |
What a wonderful book told by Linda Furiya and her story as a Japenese american growing up in rural Versailles, Indianna. She put recipes throughout the book and called it a food memoir. It was not a quick read but good. ( )
  teresat | Jul 25, 2007 |
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My mother first told me this story when I was six years old, before I knew that the language she book was Japanese.
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The syndicated food columnist blends childhood memories, food, and cultural identity in a memoir revealing what life was like in the 1960s for the only Asian American family living in the farming community of Versailles, Indiana.

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