I was very excited to read Yuko Taniguchi’s novel because she is a fellow tango dancer. I met her once at a tango event in Rochester and thought she danced beautifully. When I discovered that she was also an author, I just had to read her books. I’m glad to have discovered them. Taniguchi writes in a clear voice that is different from all the authors I have been reading lately. Taniguchi creates a distinct interior world that the reader can readily enter. It was similar to walking through a Japanese garden – all the senses are alive to contemplate the beauty in stillness, rushing water or suggested wildness.
The Ocean in the Closet depicts three generations of a family struggling with the separations caused by two wars. Anna Johnson, a half Japanese woman adopted by Americans, has a nervous breakdown and abandons her young children. Fueled on by love for her mother and a hope of family restoration, nine-year-old Helen seeks out her great-uncle Hideo Takagaka with encouragement from her Uncle Steve. Helen and her uncle travel to Japan in hopes that reconnecting Anna to her roots and showing that she was loved will bring healing to her heart.
The Ocean in the Closet is a story of loss, pain and hope. Taniguchi beautifully captures the voice of a child struggling to understand and cope with her feelings of abandonment and her mother’s pain. Hideo’s own struggle with the aftermath of WWII and living with the loss of his family is woven beautifully into the narrative and provides a Japanese perspective on the occupying American forces and view of war. Taniguchi explores the suffering caused by racial prejudice in both cultures and points to connection and understanding as way to making peace.