The Good Shufu by Tracy Slater
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 336 pages, $27
Tracy Slater never expected to slip into the role of shufu—Japanese for “housewife.” In this new memoir, she recounts how she went from teaching literature at Boston universities and a state prison to teaching business communication to executive MBA candidates in Japan, where her feminist independence, Jewish identity and overall sensibility make her feel all the more foreign. For several years, she contemplates how she fits, or doesn’t, in her new world, noting the separate socializing of men and women and the quietness of emotion that seems to characterize the culture. Trips back to Boston remind her of the freedom and variety of choices she values, and her writing makes her doubts about staying in Japan so convincing that readers may well find themselves agreeing.
But it’s there that she meets the reliably gentle Toru, one of her students. Love blossoms, though it’s secretive and communicated through reciprocally broken English and Japanese. Marriage and a greater sense of belonging follow, and in her 40s, she discovers that caring for Toru’s ailing father elicits dormant maternal feelings, which lead them to pursue parenthood through agonizing IVF treatments. Throughout, Slater retains her observant wit, even as Toru’s steadfast affection gradually tugs her heart east.
From page 193: Toru’s own approach to depression and anxiety also soothed me. His attitude diametrically opposed my native family’s. For us, depression was considered less a feeling than a dreaded guest whose very existence caused endless hand-wringing, actual arrival brought intense agitation, and occasional loitering spawned an all-out expectation of the end times.