Cynthia (Lynn) ?)- Kadohata (1956() Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1956 (some sources say 1957), in Chicago, IL. Education: Attended Los Angeles City College; degree from University of Southern California; graduate programs at University of Pittsburgh and Columbia University.
Agent—Andrew Wylie, Wylie, Aitken & Stone, Inc., 250 West 57th St., Suite 2106, New York, NY 10107.
Writer. Worked variously as a department store clerk and waitress.
Whiting Writer's Award from the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation; a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Floating World, Viking (New York, NY), 1989.
In the Heart of the Valley of Love, Viking (New York, NY), 1992.
Kira-Kira, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of short stories to periodicals, including New Yorker, Grand Street, Ploughshares, and Pennsylvania Review.
Author Cynthia Kadohata's background and experience have inspired each of her novels about young Asian-American teens. In fact, many of her most vivid memories,
both good and bad, have found their way into her novels The Floating World, In the Heart of the Valley of Love, and Kira-Kira. As Kadohata told Publishers Weekly contributor Lisa See, because she uses her own experiences in her writing, the distinction between reality and fiction is sometimes confusing. She pointed out that "sometimes I can't remember if something has happened to me or to my character. My memories become their memories, and their memories become mine."
Kadohata's family moved often—to Illinois, Michigan, Georgia, Arkansas, and California—and these experiences of traveling from town to town and state to state are a basic element of her first novel, The Floating World. The book is narrated by twelve-year-old Olivia, and follows a Japanese-American family as they search for economic and emotional security in post-World War II America. Kadohata uses Olivia's character to portray the family dynamics and interactions that occur as family members travel, eat, and sleep together in the same room. Olivia explains this itinerant life: "We were travelling then in what she [Olivia's grandmother] called ukiyo, the floating world. The floating world was the gas station attendants, restaurants, and jobs we depended on, the motel towns floating in the middle of fields and mountains. In old Japan, ukiyo meant the districts full of brothels, tea houses and public baths, but it also referred to change and the pleasures and loneliness change brings. For a long time, I never exactly thought of us as part of any of that, though. We were stable, traveling through an unstable world while my father looked for jobs."
In addition to the physical journey, Kadohata illustrates Olivia's internal journey in The Floating World. Due to the close quarters of her family's living arrangements, Olivia is exposed to adult issues at an early age. She witnesses the tension that exists between her parents, their quiet arguments, and even their lovemaking. In addition, she is constantly subjected to her eccentric grandmother's frequently abusive behavior. Finally the family finds a stable home in Arkansas where Olivia matures into a young adult, learning to accept the ways of her parents and grandmother and to develop her own values. Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Grace Edwards-Yearwood praised the novel, noting that "Kadohata writes compellingly of Olivia's coming of age, her determination to grow beyond her parents' dreams." New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani commended Kadohata's ability to handle painful moments with humor and sensitivity, noting that such "moments not only help to capture the emotional reality of these people's lives in a delicate net of images and words, but they also attest to Ms. Kadohata's authority as a writer. The Floating World marks the debut of a luminous new voice in fiction."
Kadohata's futuristic second novel, In the Heart of the Valley of Love, concerns survival and quality of life in Los Angeles in the year 2052. In this world Kadohata focuses on the haves and the have-nots, who have each formed gun-toting communities without morals, laws, or order. Amidst this chaos, Francie, a nineteen-year-old orphan of Asian and African descent, relates her story of endurance. In the Heart of the Valley of Love also draws on a tragedy from it's author's past: One episode is based on a serious accident Kadohata experienced when a car jumped a curb and hit her, mangling her right arm. The author told See that including this incident in her fiction was a way of dealing with it: "I thought this was a way for me to come out of the closet, in a sense. I have friends who have never seen my arm."
While some critics felt that the protagonist of Kadohata's second novel too closely resembled Olivia from The Floating World, several agreed with Kakutani, who wrote that "the writing in this volume is lucid and finely honed, often lyrical and occasionally magical." Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Susan Heeger found much to enjoy in In the Heart of the Valley of Love, praising Kadohata as "masterful in her evocation of physical, spiritual and cultural displacement," and adding that the "message of this marvelous though often painful book is that our capacity to feel deep emotion—our own and others'—just might bind us together, and save us from ourselves."
Unlike Kadohata's first two novels, Kira-Kira was written with a young-adult audience in mind. Like Olivia in The Floating World, younger sister Katie has difficulty dealing with prejudice as well as with her family's moves, in this case from the midwest to a small Georgia town where the Takeshima's join only a handful of other Japanese Americans. While her parents' time is taken up with working to support the family in a local chicken-processing plant, Katie grows up with her loving older sister, Lynn, who becomes her surrogate mother. When Katie reaches age ten, the roles are reversed, as she cares for Lynn as the older girl fights a losing battle with lymphoma.
Reflecting the young girl's growing maturity over the years, Katie's narrative in Kira-Kira was praised by Horn Book contributor Jennifer M. Brabander as "compelling and often quietly humorous," while Hazel Rochman noted in a Booklist review of Kadohata's third novel that "the real story is in the small details, never self-consciously 'poetic' but tense with family drama." Despite the book's central tragedy, Brabander found Kadohata's story to be one of hope, as "Katie is able to see what her family has lost and also what they've gained" as a result of Lynn's death. In School Library Journal Ashley Larsen called Kira-Kira a "beautifully written story [that] tells of a girl struggling to find her own way in a family torn by illness and horrible work conditions," while in Publishers Weekly a contributor concluded: "The family's devotion to one another, and Lynn's ability to teach Katie to appreciate the 'kirakira,' or gilttering, in everyday life makes this novel shine."
Kadohata's status as one of a growing number of Japanese-American authors has brought her both satisfaction and frustration. As she explained to See: "For the first time in my life, I saw that there could be expectations of me not only as a writer but as an Asian-American writer. On the one hand, I felt like, 'Leave me alone.' On the other hand, I thought, 'This is a way I can assert my Asianness.'" At the same time, however, she had been criticized for flawed characters such as the grandmother, or obasan, in The Floating World. This type of thinking, the author told See, is misguided. "One Japanese interviewer … asked me if in The Floating World I was saying that all Japanese grandmothers are abusive and in conflict with themselves. Of course not! Obasan was a character in a novel—not a person representing all Japanese grandmothers. He said that [noted Japanese-American writer] Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston were catering to white people, but I think they and other Asian-American writers are just writing from their hearts. Why should their work or my work stand for all Asians? That's impossible."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Kadohata, Cynthia, The Floating World, Viking (New York, NY), 1989.
Amerasia Journal, winter, 1997, Lynn M. Itagaki, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 229.
America, November 18, 1989, Eve Shelnutt, review of The Floating World, p. 361.
Antioch Review, winter, 1990, review of The Floating World, p. 125.
Belles Lettres, spring, 1993, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 46.
Booklist, June 15, 1992, Gilbert Taylor, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 1807; January 1, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Kira-Kira, p. 858.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), August 5, 1989.
Horn Book, March-April, 2004, Jennifer M. Brabander, review of Kira-Kira, p. 183.
Kliatt, January, 2004, review of Kira-Kira, p. 8.
Library Journal, June 15, 1992, Cherry W. Li, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 102.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 16, 1989, p. 12; August 23, 1992, pp. 1, 8; May 2, 1993, review of The Floating World, p. 10.
New York Times, June 30, 1989, Michiko Kakutani, review of The Floating World, p. B4; July 28, 1992, Michiko Kakutani, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. C15.
New York Times Book Review, July 23, 1989, Diana O'Hehir, review of The Floating World, p. 16; August 30, 1992, Barbara Quick, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 14.
Publishers Weekly, May 12, 1989, review of The Floating World, p. 279; June 1, 1992, review of In the Heart of the Valley of Love, p. 51; August 3, 1992, Lisa See, interview with Kadohata, pp. 48-49l; February 9, 2002, review of Kira-Kira, p. 81.
School Library Journal, January, 1990, Anne Paget, review of The Floating World, p. 127; March, 2003, Ashley Larsen, review of Kira-Kira, p. 214.
Time, June 19, 1989, review of The Floating World, p. 65.
Times Literary Supplement, December 29, 1989, Caroline Ong, review of The Floating World, p. 1447.
U.S. News & World Report, December 26, 1988, Miriam Horn and Nancy Linnon, "New Cultural Worlds," p. 101.
Washington Post Book World, June 25, 1989, pp. 5, 7; August 16, 1992, p. 5.*