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Namako: Sea Cucumber

3.65  ·  Rating Details ·  86 Ratings  ·  14 Reviews
The sea cucumber seems to be a changeling, not quite animal, not quite vegetable. Namako: Sea Cucumber is a novel about Ellen, a 10-year-old Asian American girl, no longer a child, not quite a teenager, finding her way through a world of spirits and ancestors, ghost stories and secrets.Leaving the United States, Ellen and her family travel to Japan to care for a sick grand ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published December 3rd 2005 by Coffee House Press (first published September 1st 1998)
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May 01, 2008 Kim rated it liked it
One of the coolest things about this book is the title, Namako, which apparently means both "sea cucumber" and "raw child." That's neat. Ellen, the main character, compares herself to a sea cucumber, which seems to be neither animal nor plant. Ellen is not sure who she is: at ten, she is not exactly a child anymore, but she is far from being a woman. Also, her father is Scottish and her mother is Japanese, but she has grown up in the United States. Things become even more complicated when Ellen' ...more
Feb 11, 2017 Kienie rated it liked it
The rating would've been higher were it not for the almost random religious epiphany moment in the end. Yes, it came after a moment of grief, and yes it somewhat tied into threads of spirituality that existed throughout the book. Maybe I'm just frustrated because we're left with a what's portrayed as a profound moment - without experiencing its impact. We are just vaguely told there will be a change. What it is? Why now? How come this is the form in which it appeared? What does it mean that this ...more
Jan 06, 2010 Anne rated it liked it
This strange coming-of-age story is about Ellen, a quarter-Japanese child whose parents have moved her and her three younger siblings to Japan from the United States in the hopes of saving their marriage. Ellen is in the midst of quite an identity crisis - she is no longer a child like her siblings, but certainly not adult enough to understand much of what is going on around her. She looks different than her friends in America, but she's certainly not Asian enough and can barely speak the langua ...more
Sep 12, 2015 Alcornell rated it liked it
read it while in Japan, in 2000, where I resonated strongly with feeling like, and truly being an outsider at every turn. I was impressed with the imagery, and that each chapter could stand alone, but all related. It gave me a little tiny peek at Japan, mixed heritage identity, and adolescence which I could not have had otherwise. I gifted my copy of the book to a young Japanese waitress in a Sushi restaurant who kindly spoke English to me over several visits (she being very excited by the book' ...more
Aug 17, 2012 Sandra rated it really liked it
I picked this up in a bookstore on a visit to San Francisco based on the cover and the first few pages. This book reads more like a series of connected short stories than a novel. Ellen, the narrator, seems to feel out of place in both her cultures (not sufficiently American or Japanese), and as the oldest child on the verge of adolescence she doesn't fit with her younger siblings anymore but her parents and grandmother don't get her either. The stories are vividly imagined snapshots of moments ...more
Wanda Brenni
Sep 15, 2012 Wanda Brenni rated it liked it
It was an intesting story that seemed much more autobiographical than fiction--a coming together of a Japanese/american childhood--Namako means sea cucumber or naked child--It was well written but went too quickly to the end. In the last chapters of the book, the naked child is transformed as she takes in her Japanese hertiage, but the path to that transformation wasn't formed in the reader's mind and so comes as a surprise at the end. The grandmother who is central to the change in the main cha ...more
Apr 06, 2012 Mia rated it really liked it
Completely captures the feeling of being in Japan as an outsider-insider. Someone gave me this book when I was Ellen's age, about 10 or 11, and it was too much for me back then. I just remember reading the first couple of chapters and being horrified by some of the violent and sexual imagery that now seems pretty tame (even compared to later chapters). I almost gave the book away so many times but kept it for some reason--and now I'm glad I did.
Stephanie  Balascio-Koenig
Jul 25, 2007 Stephanie Balascio-Koenig rated it really liked it
McFerrin has a beautiful way with words. Some of her descriptions are so original and clever I couldn't help but smile in admiration as I read. What I find most refreshing is that the coming of age vignettes presented are a bit off from the ordinary. They helped to spark some of my own memories that haven't surfaced in years!
Karen Kapocius
This book was interesting. It was read by the students of Book Club which I facilitate on Wednesday evenings at WWRC. The students enjoyed the book, it kept the interest of the group and provided for great discussion.
As a young girl, Ellen and her family move to Japan from the United States. Great characters, well-written, fresh, and funny. The author leaves some big questions unanswered, even to the point of us not being entirely sure whether an event was good or bad.
Serafina Sands
Aug 10, 2014 Serafina Sands rated it it was ok
Readable, but not memorable. I did not miss the characters when it ended, or wonder what happened to them. I just read the synopsis on Goodreads, and it sounds so enticing -- not realized int eh novel, alas.
Jan 03, 2011 Oyetravadora rated it liked it
not very interesting, uninteresting diction.
Mar 03, 2015 Terri rated it really liked it
Beautiful imagery. Each chapter was like an individual story, but they all tied together. I felt that the ending was a bit rushed, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
Jan 17, 2013 becca rated it liked it
The characters are all enjoyable and show development, but the story lacks direction.
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Apr 21, 2010
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Poet, travel writer and novelist Linda Watanabe McFerrin (, has been traveling since she was two and writing about it since she was six. A contributor to numerous journals, newspapers, magazines, anthologies and online publications, she is the author of two poetry collections, an award-winning novel (Namako: Sea Cucumber) and short story collection (The Hand of Buddha), and the ...more
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