Friday, September 12, 2014

Romance, Cultural Odyssey, and Self-Discovery

Sadly, unavailable on Kindle.
My first encounter with John Ball and his novel Miss One Thousand Spring Blossoms was in a Readers Digest Condensed Book version. It was likely one of the best condensations of a novel in the series, because even in the condensed format, the story had power.

Americans in the 1950s generally viewed Japan as a source of poorly-put-together radios, of Cracker-Jack-level engineering. Richard Seaton, a mid-level American engineer, shares that opinion without ever having been to the country. 

Seaton also agrees with his employer that his own skills are lacking. When they give him the opportunity to travel to Japan, this disconnect will trigger a shattering change in his life.

Miss One Thousand Spring Blossoms can be read with enjoyment on several levels, as a romance, as a cultural odyssey, or even as a clever presentation of mid-20th-century industrial practices in Japan. It succeeds on all those levels, but my favorite theme is the growth of the American protagonist Richard Seaton.

The gentle love story between the American engineer and the beautiful Japanese woman (the geisha whose working name is the title of the book) provides an artful camouflage for the way Seaton falls in love with Japan and its timeless culture. 

He arrives in Japan with a preconceived notion of a feudal, even primitive, Japan, supported by the way his task had been presented to him by his employers Stateside. The contrast between American and Nipponese engineering philosophies is a greater surprise to the American engineer than his first encounter with a public bath.

But even more striking is the way that Seaton, in learning to value the people he has come to Japan to work with, begins to accord his own abilities a greater value. 

I wish this novel was available for the Kindle, because it deserves a much wider audience than it has achieved in the bound, condensed or paperback volumes. Look for the paperback version or the full (uncondensed) hardbound book for maximum enjoyment.

But If all you can find is the Readers Digest version, I still recommend it highly.