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Through the Arc of the Rainforest (Karen Tei Yamashita)

May 9, 2010

This is one of my all-time favorite books! It’s not at all diminished on the second read, after years of building it up in my mind. I was doing a lot more thinking when I read it this time, and I was really quite impressed by the sheer number of ideas Yamashita took on with this novel.

Where to begin…. There’s Chico Paco, the human angel who inspires people around the world, whose barefoot pilgrimage of 1500 miles secured his friend Gilberto’s triumph over paralysis…the religious symbol who also happens to be gay as well as pure of heart and soul. There’s Lourdes (the impoverished maid who has two children by a husband who abandoned her long ago) and Kazumasa (the extraordinary Japanese man with his own personal satellite in front of his forehead who makes a fortune overnight and does his very best to give it all away) — and their love story that transcends class, nationality, assassins, and kidnappers. And what do we do with Mané Pena, the Father of Featherology who has “authored” innumerable books and delivered countless lectures and been awarded an honorary PhD…and who can’t read, is extremely poor, and insists on going barefoot throughout his life? Of course, we can’t forget J.B. Tweep, the three-armed American man obsessed with paperclips and increasing profit margins at any cost, who favors the artificial over the natural…and who marries Michelle Mabelle, the three-breasted French ornithologist who makes their home an indoor rainforest populated by all manner of birds (and of course the fact that they marry, have triplets, and split up). Finally, there’s Batista Djapan and his wife Tania Aparecida with their pigeon business, their overwhelming love, and Batista’s prophetic weekly messages.

It seems like, in many ways, Yamashita’s characters achieve their greatest happiness when they form meaningful and honest relationships with the people in their lives. When, like J.B. Tweep, they choose profit and artificiality over all that is “real” in their lives, they cannot be happy. They cannot survive. The hitch in this argument, of course, is Chico Paco and Gilberto. They love each other, and they have a beautiful relationship, but Gilberto’s obsession with crazy stunts and dangerous escapades ends up resulting in his death. However, he and Chico Paco die at approximately the same time, and they both die before the destruction of the Matacão which was so important to and so beloved by them. So perhaps there’s something more to that, although they are also the only gay pair in the novel so perhaps Yamashita is making a comment on that as well.

Perhaps my favorite character in the entire novel is Kazumasa’s ball. I love the ball, and I love that the ball is the narrator of the entire novel. I think everyone should read this novel!!

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