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December 08, 1995 - Image 17

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The Michigan Daily, 1995-12-08

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The Michigan Daily - Friday, December 8, 1995 - 5B

James A. Michener
with Illustrations by
John Fulton
Miracle In Seville
Random House, 1995
It's amazing that James Mi'chener
has written over 40 books in his life.
Even in the twilight of his prolific coL-
reer, he has continued to produce nog-
els that are well-received by the literairy
community. His latest work, "Mirac e
In Seville," is an uncharacteristica y
short novel when compared with some
of his earlier books like"Caribbean"'or
"Alaska". '
The story recounts the perceptionswof
an American sports journalist (b4r.
Shenstone) assigned to uncover sopne
mysteries of the famous bullfightqin
Spain. He settles in with Don Cayet to
Mota, a proud bull-rancher who fitids
himself in a struggle to provide quality
bulls forthe celebrated fights. Shenstane
becomes very attached to Mota, and
4ventually winds up immersed ini the
bullfighting festival with more at stake
than his story.
There are some wonderful monents
between Shenstone and Mota. The
journalist, seemingly without any real
beliefs, is awe-struck by the rver-
ence Mota shows for his two passions
in life - The Virgin Mary, anid his
bulls. Essentially, this is a story ofthe
traditional world meeting the :non-
The religious imagery is a toeces-
sary ingredient for the success of the
novel, but the fantastic miraclesseem
to detract from the interesting citarac-
=ters. Michener has really' only
;scratched the surface with hiis two
protagonists. The novel needs more
:scenes with Shenstone and Nbota in-
teracting with other characters. The
one evil matador and his gypsy sister
really only serve to move the story
along. They certainly aren't iterest-
ing, complex characters.
However the real problem with the
novel lies with the narrator, SlEnstone.
He tells us the story, but we never get
into his head. Invariably, the marrative
reads with journalistic ease. H owever,
it is largely devoid of real humean emo-
tion. Shenstone never tells the reader
how he feels.
To the novel's credit, the: Spanish
history and culture surrouisding the
bullfights is vividly recounted. Mota's
intimate conversations with 11henstone
:reveal the timeless pageantay of the
sport. Michener describes thE varying
styles of the matadors, some with daz-
zling grace, others with shanveful trick-

ery. He also recounts the religious fes-
tival that accompanies the bullfighting
in Seville. These are the moments when
the novel is at its best.
"Miracle In Seville" is a successful
novel in terms of its descriptions of
Spanish custom and culture. The story
relies too heavily on the bullfights,
though. Hemingway, in the classic "The
Sun Also Rises" incorporated the bull-
fights into his novel. However, his char-
acters are highly complex and most of
the narrative deals with their own feel-
ings of pain and pleasure. After all,
most of us look for these recognizable
human emotions in the literature we
read. Michener's novel is worth the
time, but don't expect a Hemingway-
like experience from this bullfighting
-Matthew Brown

EIlzabeth Bumiller
The Secrets of Mariko: A Year
in the Life of a Japanese
Woman and Her Family
Times Books
"The Secrets of Mariko," Elisabeth
Bumiller's fascinating and sympa-
thetic account of a year in the life of
an "ordinary" Japanese household, is
itself so out of the ordinary that, even
as we read the book's first pages, we
find ourselves confronting and re-
thinking our casual prejudices and
Mariko Tanaka, the seemingly un-
exceptional mother of three who
agreed to let Bumiller observe and
interview her family, could hardly be
less like the self-effacing Japanese
woman we've heard so much about:
the "education mama" pressuring her
children to excel in a Darwinian school
system, the obedient wife waiting up
to serve dinner when her overworked
husband staggers home after a long
evening of business-related carous-
"Stocky, earthy and 44,
overscheduled and sleep-deprived, a
Tokyo woman of the middle class
with three children, two part-time jobs
and one disengaged husband," Mariko
"relaxed at the end of each day with a
bath, a beer, a cigarette and a video-
tape of her favorite lunchtime gab
show. She was vigorous, positive, a
person who thrived on busyness."
What we soon come to realize is that
this is an understatement; in fact it's
hard not to feel slightly breathless as
we follow Mariko through the dizzy-

ing round of activity that constitutes
an average day.
She works part time as a water-
meter reader; she teaches and is a
serious student of the shamisen (a
classical stringed instrument). She is
actively involved in neighborhood
politics and in the school PTA.
Meanwhile, she must cook and
clean for her three children (a
chubby, pampered 9-year-old boy,
a rebellious 15-year-old daughter
and a 16-year-old son, whose slip-
ping grades are a source of intense
concern); she must also deal with
her husband's career frustrations
and severe alcoholism, and care for
her bedridden mother and aged fa-
ther, who have moved in with the
Tanakas. (For reasons that soon
become obvious, Bumiller has cho-
sen to protect Mariko by giving her
a pseudonymous last name.)
What's striking is not only how
much Mariko does but how much of
Japanese life Bumiller is able to see
through Mariko's eyes as she ac-
companies her from the market to
the kitchen, to a junior-high gradu-
ation, an afternoon out with the girls
at a private karaoke club, the set of
a popular TV show, a high school
basketball championship, a tumul-
tuous religious festival attended by
prominent Yakuza (gangsters), a
shamisen lesson, an amusement
park, a toy store to which she goes
on a dreary family excursion, and
to Hokkaido, where the family takes
a rare vacation.
Mariko opens the door, so to speak,
for us to peek inside the homes of
those whose water meters she reads,
and she admits us to a rancorous meet-
ing of the elementary school PTA.
Often, Bumiller digresses to con-
sider aspects of Japanese history and
culture, the "subtleties and myster-
ies" of the Tanakas' society. So the
story of Mariko's parents' courtship
inspires a disquisition on the Japa-
nese experience during World War II;
the presence of the Yakuza at the
religious festival leads to an inter-
view with a gangster leader; a visit to
the Tanaka children's classrooms re-
sults in talks with educators about the
educational system.
Ultimately, though, it's not
Mariko's ceaseless activity that so
surprises and engages Bumiller (and
the reader) but, rather, who she is. At
their first meeting, Mariko reveals
herself as a woman of "uncommon
honesty," willing to tell the painful
Consequently, what emerges are

Mariko's deepest secrets: her pro-
found unhappiness with her essen-
tially loveless marriage, her worries
about her children, her impatience
with her parents, the cumulative re-
sentments built up during a lifetime
narrowly circumscribed by obligation
and duty, and an astonishing confes-
sion she makes when the interviews
are almost over.
Nowhere except in novels - in
the work of Junichiro Tanizaki,
Yukio Mishima, Yasunari Kawabata
- do we find such an intimate por-
trait of the inner emotional and spiri-
tual lives of Japanese women and
If there's a flaw in the book, it's one
that Bumiller admits: Her lack of flu-
ency in Japanese obliged her to work
with a translator and thus to miss
certain subtleties and nuances.
At moments, we long to hear more
of Mariko's own voice, to fathom
the deeper levels of subtext so often
revealed by the particular ways in
which a person chooses to tell her
own story. Yet we trust Elisabeth
Bumillerto tell Mariko's story for her
with a wide-ranging curiosity, a lack
of prejudgment and a willingness to
keep looking and asking questions
until "The Secrets of Mariko" are fi-
nally disclosed: that "symphony of
roiling emotion" hidden underneath
the deceptively placid, deceptively or-
dinary surface of middle-class Japa-
nese life.
-- Newsday
Art Wolfe
In the Presence of Wolves
Random House
As you blindly make your way
through the stores before Christmas,
searching for that does-it-really-exist
perfect gift, consider this beautiful
new book by photographer Art Wolfe.
(Yes, that is his real name.) Ideal for
nature and wolf lovers, or even for
those interested in photography, this
book includes information on the wolf,
spanning its biology, habitat, and the
many legends concerning this crea-
ture (all compiled by editor Greg
The photographs are impressive
in their color, clarity and proximity
to the wolves.
Some of the wolves stare directly
at the camera, creating wonderful
portraits. Each photo conjures up
images of the photographer strug-
gling to get the perfect shot, pa-

tiently waiting for the right pose.
Considering Wolfe's resume, hav-
ing worked for nature magazines
like "National Geographic," it is
not surprising to find in this book
such spectacular works of art. (Pun,
of course, not intended.)
Along with the photos, another
interesting portion of the book in-
cludes many short folk tales and
legends about the wolf collected
from all over the world, but with a
good concentration of Native
American folklore. While flipping
through the book and inspecting the
pictures is rewarding, these short
tales are intriguing as well, span-
ning many cultures whose fascina-
tion with and admiration of the wolf
remains consistent throughout.
Thinking you'll be over-wolfed?
Not every photograph is of wolves;
there are a number of beautiful land-
scapes and colorful portraits of ani-
mals outside of the canis lupus spe-
While it makes a great, decorative
coffee table book, this could also prove
a good source for research informa-
tion. Each picture tells a vivid story in
itself. Transported into the mysteri-
ous and wild world of the wolf, we are
treated to a rare and exquisite glimpse
into its life.
- Kristina Curkovic
Stephanie Grant
The Passion ofAlice
Houghton Mifflin
Inside every fat woman is a fatter
With that epigram, Stephanie Grant
begins "The Passion of Alice," a first
novel as stark and sharply delineated
as the rapidly declining physique of
'her anorexic heroine.
Alice, like many women with
anorexia, keeps a close watch on her
stats. Here are some to ponder: Age,
25. Height, 5 feet 10 inches. Weight,
94 pounds and dropping. Still drop-
Alice's self-abusive self-control has
allowed her to diet down to little but
puny muscle, crepe-like skin and
brittle bone. Her ravaged body has
rebelled by handing her a heart at-
tack. That lands her in Seaview, an
eating-disorder treatment facility on
Boston's South Shore.
There she joins a group of women
whose personal torments are dramati-
cally expressed through the abuse of

food. Like adolescents in a strict
boarding school or hostages out to
thwart their keepers, they find little
ways to rebel against Seaview's
touchy-feely therapies.
Still, the women can see that those
therapies are helping to send some of
them, not whole but at least function-
ing, back to the world. Among them
are other anorexics, such as Gwen, so
pale and fragile, she seems on the
verge of shattering. There also are
compulsive eaters, such as Louise, so
fat her face seems to ride upon an-
other face that sits atop yet another:
Nevertheless, she's not above scarf-
ing down desserts Alice hides for her
in a bathroom stall.
And there are the bulimics, who
know how to eat their cake and heave
it, too. Among them is Maeve, who
with the twist of a fist in the throat can
bring up the contents of a stomach
into a wastebasket, a toilet bowl, a
Maeve knows many tricks. She's a
piece of work, a real rule-breaker.
Next' to Syd, Alice's mother, she is
the strongest woman ever to come
into Alice's life. And no one is more
surprised than Alice, whose life has
been a celebration of the denial of the
flesh, when she falls in love with
Alice has become a connoisseur of
emptiness. It is, she believes, the driv-
ing force for all the women at Seaview
perhaps for all women everywhere
who choose food as the battlefield for
their unending wars with themselves'.
It is this emptiness the overeaters try
to fill with impossible amounts of
food, that the bulimics try to dis-
gorge, that the anorexics try to con-
strict and compress. It is a black hole
of utter worthlessness, which con-
sumes the selfand will never allow its
victims to appease it.
For a time, Maeve's energy, sass
and sexuality lift Alice out of her
blackness. For a moment, there's real
connection and blessed attention, the
thing Alice is most famished for. For
a time, there's hope.
But Maeve's fragile, too. And Alice,
ever the strict examiner of self and
psyche, comes to realize that what she
most loves is not Maeve herself but
the way Maeve makes Alice feel.
There is no happy ending to this
tale, told through Alice's astringently
ironic voice, and perhaps no happy
ending could possibly ring true. Nev-
ertheless, for the unflinching reader,
it's a fascinating, troubling and pow-
erful look at a starving soul.
- The Hartford Courant



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