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Country of Origin
Cover of Country of Origin
Country of Origin
A Novel
by Don Lee
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A dazzling debut novel by the prize-winning author of Yellow, set in the unique and exotic nightworld of Tokyo.In this "poignant story of prejudice, betrayal and the search for identity" (Newsweek International), the trials and tribulations of these three remarkable characters are "at turns trenchantly funny and heartbreakingly sad" (Publishers Weekly). "[An] elegant and haunting debut" (Entertainment Weekly), Country of Origin is a "swirl of action, a whirl of love and sex and race and politics, local and international" (Chicago Tribune)—a "quiet literary triumph" (Booklist)

Lisa Countryman is a woman of complex origins. Half-Japanese, adopted by African American parents, she returns to Tokyo, ostensibly to research her thesis on Japan's "sad, brutal reign of conformity." When she vanishes, Tom Hurley, who is half-Korean and half-white, is assigned to her case at the American embassy, as is local cop Kenzo Ota, who is 100 percent Japanese but deemed an outsider.

A dazzling debut novel by the prize-winning author of Yellow, set in the unique and exotic nightworld of Tokyo.In this "poignant story of prejudice, betrayal and the search for identity" (Newsweek International), the trials and tribulations of these three remarkable characters are "at turns trenchantly funny and heartbreakingly sad" (Publishers Weekly). "[An] elegant and haunting debut" (Entertainment Weekly), Country of Origin is a "swirl of action, a whirl of love and sex and race and politics, local and international" (Chicago Tribune)—a "quiet literary triumph" (Booklist)

Lisa Countryman is a woman of complex origins. Half-Japanese, adopted by African American parents, she returns to Tokyo, ostensibly to research her thesis on Japan's "sad, brutal reign of conformity." When she vanishes, Tom Hurley, who is half-Korean and half-white, is assigned to her case at the American embassy, as is local cop Kenzo Ota, who is 100 percent Japanese but deemed an outsider.

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About the Author-
  • Don Lee is the author of the novels The Collective, Wrack and Ruin, and Country of Origin, and the story collection Yellow. He has received an American Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, an O. Henry Award, and a Pushcart Prize. He teaches in the MFA program in creative writing at Temple University and splits his time between Philadelphia and Baltimore.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from April 12, 2004
    Ploughshares
    editor Lee uses the racial homogeneity of Japan as a stark backdrop to this elegant first novel, a follow-up to his story collection, Yellow
    . Set in Tokyo in 1980, the book centers on the disappearance of Lisa Countryman, a half-Japanese, half-black Berkeley graduate student who goes to Japan to research the "sad, brutal reign of conformity" for her dissertation and, perhaps more importantly, embark on an identity quest. Her mixed-race background gives her an exotic beauty, and after a teaching job falls through, it lands her a job as a hostess girl at a Tokyo men's club. Echoes of Countryman's identity crisis ring through the lives of all the characters affected by her disappearance. When she vanishes, it is first brought to the attention of Tom Hurley, a vain and careless junior diplomat at the U.S. Embassy who tells people he's Hawaiian, though he's really half-Korean and half-white. The case is turned over to Kenzo Ota, a glum, divorced police inspector, who spent three hard years of his adolescence in Missouri. Convinced that Countryman's case could be just what he needs to put his career back on track, Ota resolves to find out what happened to her. The story of Countryman's time in Japan and her efforts to learn who she is unfolds parallel to Ota's efforts to learn her fate. Through the interlocking stories of Ota, Countryman and Hurley, Lee discourses on race, identity, the Japanese sex trade, social conventions and law. Sharply observed, at turns trenchantly funny and heartbreakingly sad, this novel could be the breakout book for Lee. Agent, Maria Massie, Witherspoon Associates
    . (July)

    Forecast:
    The novel's insights into the Japanese sex industry make it a grittier counterpoint to
    Memoirs of a Geisha, and its investigations of race and identity might, for some, recall
    White Teeth. Five-city author tour
    .

  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2004
    Some mystery authors manage to create works of entertaining literary fiction, but fewer are successful at using the form to examine social themes. What makes Lee's (Yellow) work so satisfying is that while the mystery is used as a frame to support issues of race, exploitation, and identity, the narrative as a whole doesn't collapse under the weight of this literary ambition. The story takes place in Japan at the close of 1980 and is effectively told from the perspective of three characters: Lisa Countryman, a young American postgraduate of African American and Asian descent who goes missing after getting mixed up in the country's sex clubs; Tom Hurley, the junior officer at the U.S. consulate assigned to her case, who is of mixed Asian American heritage and as a matter of convenience tells acquaintances that he is Hawaiian; and lonely, beleaguered Japanese detective Kenzo Ota, who ultimately undertakes the effort to locate Lisa. The characters are victims of both perception and their own defense mechanisms, and their emotional responses are consistently convincing. Highly recommended for all fiction collections.-Edward Keane, Long Island Univ. Lib., Brooklyn, NY

    Copyright 2004 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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A Novel
Don Lee
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