Mike's Reviews > Toru: Wayfarer Returns

Toru by Stephanie R. Sorensen
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I'm going to start with what I learned from the author's afterword, and work backwards.

The author has been a foreign-exchange student in Japan, where (it seems) she was welcomed, treated with great hospitality, and came to love the country and its people. This is great, but it also leads to the main problem of the book.

The problem is that the author has then written what's essentially a wish-fulfillment fantasy about how great it would be if Japan had become that peaceful, hospitable, amiable country more or less directly from being a rigid, feudal despotism under the shoguns, without going through all the pain of the invasion by Commodore Perry's Black Fleet, the subsequent long and difficult process of modernization, and World War II.

Instead, she shows us - or, often, tells us about - a Japan in which a young man, sent clandestinely to America to spy and bring back its technology, is not executed on his return (as was the law) but convinces everyone - fearful peasants, harsh feudal lords, everyone - to modernize in an absurdly short space of time, leapfrogging American technology so that they can confront Perry on his arrival with a superior force.

I didn't believe it. I didn't believe (having worked on projects for 20 years) that such a major program could be completed so quickly; I didn't believe that an illiterate peasant blacksmith could become, first an engineer (maybe sort of believable), then a pilot, then captain of an airship, then admiral of the fleet; I didn't believe that someone we're told was a conservative old feudal lord would let his daughter dress and behave like a man just because she wanted to; I didn't believe that everyone would listen to a commoner; I didn't believe that the feudal lords would do away with their own power because of love for country; and I certainly didn't believe, though we were repeatedly told, that the heroes would be executed (almost nobody died at all, in fact, nobody in warfare and almost nobody from industrial accidents, which, again, I didn't believe).

That was the problem: there was a lot of telling, and what we were told contradicted, as often as not, what we were shown, and I didn't believe any of it. And then what we'd been told, over and over again, just ended up not being true, because it had to not be true or else the story would be tragic. And there was no believable reason why it wasn't true.

As a result, it barely squeaks three stars, and that's only because there's a good heart behind this unbelievable story, and I don't want to be any harsher to it than I already have been.

I received a copy from Netgalley for review.
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Reading Progress

November 1, 2017 – Started Reading
November 4, 2017 – Finished Reading
November 8, 2017 – Shelved
November 8, 2017 – Shelved as: netgalley

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