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Tropic of Orange (Karen Tei Yamashita)

October 13, 2010

I’ve read Tropic of Orange a few times, but this time I read it more closely than ever (the reason: I’m about to write about it in my dissertation). Each time I read it, it’s amazing to me just how much it overflows with allusions: historical, social, artistic, literary — you name it, Yamashita’s got it in there. But aside from the value that all of those references and shouts outs have for me when it comes to my dissertation, my favorite thing about this novel is how it’s written.

Each character has their own unique voice, and the chaos that erupts as the novel progresses is tied up with those voices and the individual natures of each of the characters. I’m not sure I’m really explaining this as well as I’d like to….

I love this book because the characters are all so familiar and interesting, because they’re so human and have so much at stake in so many different ways. And, of course, I love it for the magic it possesses. The music that Manzanar creates out of LA traffic — music that permeates the novel and the characters’ lives — is just one example of how things in the world of the novel are more than they are in our world. I also love the salute-to-Rushdie inherent in bringing the tropics from where they currently reside to a place like Los Angeles, where all mayhem ensues when the city is suddenly home to the Tropic of Cancer.

Okay, I’m not doing this book justice. Let me put it this way: if you love a good novel chalk full of crazy characters and impossible events, full of mystery and surprise and suspense, full of unexplainable phenomena and unavoidable chaos, then you’ll love this book as much as I do.

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