Julie's Reviews > My Year of Meats

My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki
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's review
Nov 30, 2008

really liked it
Read in November, 2008

Each chapter narrates a month in the Year of Meats, Jane Takagi-Little’s year-long experience directing My American Wife!, a Japanese documentary series filmed in America. Jane is half-Japanese, raised in small-town Minnesota, and finds herself interpreting American mores for a Japanese audience when she does not always feel sympathy towards the American subjects of her show. The show is underwritten by BEEF-EX, an agency pushing the export of American beef to Japan, and as such the centerpiece of each show is supposed to be the wife cooking a meat dish. Jane is given the mandate “pork is possible, but beef is best” along with a list of requirements of attractiveness, moral rectitude, and the like to choose appropriate subjects, and throughout the year struggles to tell authentic and interesting stories while dodging the bureaucracy of her bosses, personified in the repugnant Joichi “John” Ueno from the ad agency.

On the Japanese side of the novel, we meet John Ueno’s wife and victim, Akiko, who never questioned being a properly submissive Japanese wife, even while her husband hit her, until being forced to watch and rate the TV show. Her cloistered and helpless existence contrasts with Jane’s autonomy, while her feelings about fertility parallel Jane’s. The two sides are bridged with epigraphs from the Pillow Book of Shonagon, a 10th century Japanese court lady who wrote about her likes and dislikes with opinionated lists such as Things Better When Painted, Pleasing Things, and Rare Things. A lot happens in the year, and about a third of the way through it becomes less of a satire on the entertainment industry and moves into a serious documentary topic, that of the problems of factory farms and the hormones used in modern beef production. At the same time, this topic turns personal, with these drugs perhaps affecting both Jane and Akiko.

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