Polite Lies: On being a Woman Caught Between Cultures
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Polite Lies: On being a Woman Caught Between Cultures

3.53 of 5 stars 3.53  ·  rating details  ·  216 ratings  ·  36 reviews
Twelve essays by a Japanese-American writer about being caught between past and present, old country and new.
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published January 15th 1998 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published 1998)
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Jen
May 13, 2008 Jen rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jen by: Nicole
Interesting, well-written, and insightful, but occasionally more negative toward Japanese culture than I really felt comfortable with. I can't disagree with her, as obviously she knows more about the culture than I do, but I couldn't help feeling a little nervous about her negativity at times.
Lisa
This book should have been called: I've Got an Ax to Grind with Japan. 97% of the book was Kyoko Mori giving her very negative opinion of her home county, its people, its language, and its culture. It was interesting, however, because she was so candid and it was a unique perspective. Mori spent the first 20 years of her life in Japan, and the last 20 in the midwestern US where she lives currently, and only has made a few short visit back to Japan. It's not like she has loads of great things to...more
Lorna Collins
I read this book after living in Japan for a couple of years. It explained quite a bit about the differences in the Japanese and American approaches to conveying information, politeness, and honesty.

When I read about how doctors avoided telling patients and their families the truth about terminal illnesses, I cried. We had gone through a similar experience with a dear friend and colleague. He had been treated by a doctor in Japan for several months without being told exactly what the diagnosis w...more
John
(If we had half-stars, I'd probably call this one a 3.5)

Some reviewers found these essays overly negative, but I came away feeling that Mori was honest about her experiences growing up in Japan; her mother committed suicide when Mori was 12, and almost immediately thereafter the household was run by a step-mother, who seems to have highly resented her, and a distant, uncaring father. What might be seen as bitterness on her part, or at least self-pity, I saw as related to the points she was makin...more
Gail Jeidy
This is a beautifully crafted series of essays, linked in a lovely way. 'Polite Lies' is Kyoko Mori's story. Kyoko left Japan (and a tragic childhood)at age 20 to come to America for school and settle in the midwest. 'Polite Lies' embodies her cross-cultural experience. I learned so much that was surprising, 'shocking' is not an overstatement, about the restraint of the Japanese culture and particularly its burden on women. Kyoko's take on life in the midwest brought me home to my origins in Wis...more
Chris
I really disliked this book. Even accounting for the fact that it's a bit dated (estimating the author was in Japan in the 60s/70s), it's mainly the author talking about everything she hates about Japan, which is colored through the lens of her fairly miserable childhood, and making very broad generalizations about Japanese culture/language and Midwestern culture/language that often seemed inaccurate to me.
Walter
Books by and/or about "border crossers" usually examine both positive and negative aspects of a liminal existence...well, at least the ones that I have enjoyed have done this. This book, on the other hand, is an extended rant about the author's take on what's wrong with Japan and Japanese culture. It's a beautifully written rant, but still a rant.
Laura Patak
I enjoyed the honest and eye opening comparisons of Japanese and American cultures. I did not enjoy all the whining and blaming that the author does about her life.
Edith
Reading Kyoko Mori’s memoir “Yarn: Remembering the Way Home” inspired me to pick up this earlier memoir of hers. I REALLY enjoyed this book. Kyoko’s honesty and willingness to examine the “polite lies” we all engage in was a breath of fresh air. Having grown up in Kobe, Japan and spending the first half of her life there, she compares Japan to the U.S. and details the immense differences for us. SO interesting!

Her mother, immensely unhappy in her marriage, killed herself when Kyoko was 12. Suff...more
PlushyPirate
I first read Kyoko Mori's A Dream of Water my freshman year of college (four years ago) and was struck by how beautifully she writes. Certain phrases stick with me even now. I got the chance to meet her this year and rediscovered my love of her prose.

I read Polite Lies today, in two sittings. I subjected my mom, my friends, and my entire facebook circle to multiple quotes and almost cried a couple of times.

I'm familiar with the Midwest, especially Green Bay, so I really enjoy seeing her perspe...more
Patrick McCoy
I stumbled upon Kyoko Mori’s memoir/essay collection Polite Lies. I was curious about what observations she had to make about being a woman who was raised in Japan and grew into adulthood in the American Midwest. She discusses different aspects of the two cultures and her experiences in different chapters under headings like: Language, Family, Secrets, rituals, a Woman’s Place, bodies, Symbols, School, Tears, Lies, Safety, and Home. Some of the observations seem like broad generalizations and ot...more
Yoonmee
Memoirs are an inherently selfish, self-reflective act, but some authors write memoirs because they feel they have something of value to share, something needs to be heard. For instance, when a survivor of war writes about his/her experience, s/he usually writes because they believe the world needs to know the horrors of war. Most likely all authors believe their memoirs need to be heard, but some seem to write defensively, as a form of justifying their lives and actions. Kyoko Mori seems as if...more
Sandy D.
This is an autobiography I stole from someone else's list, because I find Japanese culture fascinating. Mori describes some really eye opening cultural differences - health care (and whether you're told the 'whole' truth about your condition!), banking (just trust your relatives and don't ask questions), and the 'polite lies' of the title come to mind right off the bat.

I really liked her comparison of houses and marriages in Japan to small town (Green Bay) Wisconsin, too. She had some interestin...more
Hollowspine
This is a very interesting book, it brings up some interesting views on both Japanese and Midwestern culture. Coming from the Midwest I found her points on the culture spot on, she seems to see into the heart and mind of the Midwesterner! I was also glad to find her debunking the myths of the superiority of the Japanese school system (in comparison to Western, mainly American systems) and revealing the reason behind the American attraction to Eastern Philosophy (such as Buddhism or Zen). Though...more
Gloria
Caveat: I didn't finish it because it was very depressing.

I picked this book up at a thrift store and started it reading it in December, in the pre-holiday rush. Not a good time to read a depressing book by someone who is caught between two cultures, had a sad childhood rich with ambivalent feelings toward her father (and stepmother), felt alone even from her brother, etc.

Maybe if I had picked up and started during another time of year, I might have finished it, because I think it was interesti...more
Catherine
Kyoko Mori spent years 0-20 in Japan (Kobe and Osaka) and years 20-40 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Her comparisons between the Japanese and American (particularly Midwestern US) cultures was extremely interesting. The author goes into great detail about her struggle with trying to come to terms with her roots and the pull of home, but her yearning to find what feels like home to her. Her examination of her family made for very interesting reading. I did feel that she was just a bit whiny, especially...more
Michiel
I gave it three stars instead of two because I thought the prose was excellent, and you don't find that so often, and also because I keep thinking about things in the book.

The subject matter is something that interests me greatly, and though I am open to whatever Mori has to say, I find that her bitterness really gets in the way of saying what she wants to say. I think she has some excellent points, especially the illustrations on how linguistics color culture, but she becomes entirely too unrel...more
Linda
Born and raised in Japan, the Americanized Mori expounds on the restrictive, complicated and traditional Japanese society she seems to despise. As a half-Japanese, very American Midwesterner, I did not buy into her comparisons of Japan with the conservative U.S. heartland. While the book does more than a good job of exposing the fascinating (and often negative) undercurrents of Japanese society, I get the feeling Mori was so choked by her upbringing she has gone to the opposite extreme.
Tiggerj
Very interesting. Lots of insight into many different aspects of Japanese culture, not only from a female view. The author has spent her time in America examining her own repressive society, and she does not like what she sees. By the time I got to the part about the rigid symbolism of frogs and ponds in haiku, I realized how very angry she was. The book must have been quite therapeutic for her to write. For this Japan lover, it was eye-opening.
Sgilbert
I have never read anything like this before. This is an insightful and very personal account of a Japanese woman's feelings about Japanese culture vs American culture. No holds bar approach.She was forthcoming and not very kind about rules, expectations and impossible standards women are expected to follow. A must read!! You will examine yourself, your culture, your beliefs, etc in a new light and will gain a new perspective about the Japanese.
Jennifer
A Japanese woman who lived half her life in Japan and the other half in mid-West America (Wisconsin). She explains what it's like to live in each culture and how it differs in terms of manners, cooking, men/women roles, etc. It kept my interest and I read it in only a few days. It's interesting for me because I get the views of a Japanese woman about what it's like to live in both places.
Karen
Interesting view comparing Japanese culture to the US mid-west. She is very anti-Japanese even having been born and raised there for 20 years! I found a lot of her descriptions relevant to living in Tokyo. She seems like a hardcore feminist, but I liked her writing style and would be interested in reading another one of her Fiction novels.
Nicole
This is the book that made me decide to go get my Master's studying Japan. Mori, Japanese-born but now an American citizen, compares various aspects of femininity and social expectations in both countries. Not only was I sucked in immediately, but I had to know how much is still true. That answer is still in progress.
Ryan Mishap
Mori writes about her first twenty years growing up in Japan and then the next twenty in Green Bay, Wisconsin. While often repetitive and self-absorbed (it is a memoir, duh), she offers many great insights into the differences and similarities of Japanese and U.S. culture.
Josephine (aurora lector)
As interested as I am to read some critical opinions of Japan, this was too bitter and depressing to continue. The author's dislike for her step-mother was the point of too many anecdotes, and really, she just explains her dislike for one thing after another.
Barb
A memoir of a woman who grew up in Japan but has lived in the U.S. for the past 20 years. Her insights into the immigrant experience and her adopted country are often funny but very pointed. It's an interesting way to see ourselved from a different vantage point.
Travelling Cari
I got this off BookMooch and started reading it this weekend on the train.

ETA 15 September: I put this book aside to read two library books and lost interest. Too many books, not enough time to read the blah ones.
Jessica
Picked this up off a kitchen table in Nicaragua and could not put it down. Excellent writing style, but was disappointed that last couple chapters she just drew the same conclusions over and over again. Got repetitive.
Nate
Jul 09, 2007 Nate rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
What made this book great for me was making comments to and asking questions directly with the author at a luncheon with about a dozen people. We were able to see more of what this time in life meant for her.
Cheryl
Used this with my upper level undergraduate American Ethnic Studies students. They liked the between cultures discussions within it. I like the way she unfolds her story so seamlessly.
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Kyoko Mori was born in Kobe, Japan, in 1957. As a young girl, she learned numerous ways to be creative, including drawing, sewing, and writing, from her mother and her mother's family. From those family members, Mori says, "I came to understand the magic of transformation — a limitless possibility of turning nothing into something."

Mori's life changed completely at age 12, when her mother died. He...more
More about Kyoko Mori...
Shizuko's Daughter Yarn: Remembering the Way Home The Dream of Water: A Memoir One Bird Stone Field, True Arrow: A Novel

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