Catherine's Reviews > If You Follow Me

If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous
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's review
Jul 02, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: 2011, hilarious, small-town, traveling-vicariously, japan

A lot of my enjoyment, at least initially, of this book came from identifying with the narrator's experience teaching English as a foreign language in the "countryside" of an Asian country. So much of the cultural and linguistic miscommunication rang true to me, particularly being watched constantly, people she'd never met knowing her name (or in my case it was more often my child's name), trying to speak the native language and being told, "I don't speak English" or just "No English."

Much of this book is filled with hilarious confusion, but if that was the substance of the book, any expat could have written it and only expats would probably enjoy it.

From reading the Q&A bit in the back, I know that like her narrator, Marina, Malena Watrous taught English in a small town of Shika in rural Japan. Like Marina, Malena is from San Francisco and attended college in New York. These similarities make me wonder how autobiographical the novel is, but I'm guessing that Malena fleshed out her own experiences with a lot of "what ifs": What if my father had killed himself a year before I went to Japan? What if I'd gone there with my girlfriend and tried to keep our relationship secret? What if we'd found in our rental house a giant Amana refrigerator, unplugged and full of rotting beef imported from Nebraska? (I'm really not giving too much away at this point, as all of this becomes clear in the first few chapters.) Follow that with What if I'd met a ________ who ________? multiplied by a dozen or so and Malena created the story of Marina filled with sufficient characters and plot loops to keep me entertained and even wanting more after the story concluded.

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