I have not been having the best luck with books this year. I thought I would pick up Fifty Words for Rain after seeing some praise. Being historical fiction, I thought it was just up my alley.
Nori, a young, biracial girl ends up living with her grandparents after her mother abandons her at their front gate. Mom disappears. An embarrassment to her aristocratic family due to her race, Nori is hidden away until her brother arrives and becomes her ally.
Kyoto, Japan, 1948. “Do not question. Do not fight. Do not resist.”
Such is eight-year-old Noriko “Nori” Kamiza’s first lesson. She will not question why her mother abandoned her with only these final words. She will not fight her confinement to the attic of her grandparents’ imperial estate. And she will not resist the scalding chemical baths she receives daily to lighten her skin.
The child of a married Japanese aristocrat and her African American GI lover, Nori is an outsider from birth. Her grandparents take her in, only to conceal her, fearful of a stain on the royal pedigree that they are desperate to uphold in a changing Japan. Obedient to a fault, Nori accepts her solitary life, despite her natural intellect and curiosity. But when chance brings her older half-brother, Akira, to the estate that is his inheritance and destiny, Nori finds in him an unlikely ally with whom she forms a powerful bond—a bond their formidable grandparents cannot allow and that will irrevocably change the lives they were always meant to lead. Because now that Nori has glimpsed a world in which perhaps there is a place for her after all, she is ready to fight to be a part of it—a battle that just might cost her everything.
Spanning decades and continents, Fifty Words for Rain is a dazzling epic about the ties that bind, the ties that give you strength, and what it means to be free.
Fifty Words for Rain is a beautifully told story of post-WWII Japan. However, it is also 100 percent unabashed tragedy porn. It primarily relies on tragedy for character development of its protagonist, which is obviously not a stand in. It made Part I of the book especially difficult to read due to its bleakness.
Lemmie is an American author who has an appreciation for Japanese culture. That being said, it is clear from the book that she does not have a solid understanding of this culture. I don’t pretend to know a ton about Japanese culture, but I know enough that a lot of things in the book are just unacceptable and would never happen. Honestly, if she had even watched Queer Eye in Japan, she would have known enough that that shit would not even happen in modern day Japan, let alone in the 1950s-60s.
This is not to say that just because an author is not a native that they cannot write a story based somewhere else. I just believe it needs to done with care, research, and input from others. It is apparent that Lemmie did not consult anyone who is Japanese or a Black Japanese individual to discuss the events in the book or the protagonist’s experience.
One other thing that made me uncomfortable throughout the story was Nori’s near incestuous love and obsession with her brother. And for the cherry on top, the ending of the book was completely incongruous with the rest of the story. It didn’t fit the experiences or development of the narrative. It basically completely disregarded all but the beginning of the book. I was left pretty angry after finishing the last page.
So it should come as no surprise that I do not recommend Fifty Words for Rain to anyone. It was not terrible and had beautiful prose, but I cannot look past is inaccuracies and contrived nature. If you are looking for great historical fiction taking place in Japan, let me recommend Pachinko instead.
Fifty Words for Rain
September 1, 2020