Friday, September 11, 2009

Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangster's Daughter by Shoko Tendo

Reviewed for Front Street Reviews

I read this book in one go; considering I have never done that before, it says a lot for the intensity and breathtaking reality of the memoir. Though relatively short, it packs a powerful punch, an amazing debut. I was drawn into her story until I felt I was a part of it. The essence of a good writer is to be able to make that connection between reader and character, and Shoko Tendo has certainly done that. Way out of my usual genres, I was completely absorbed in her heart-wrenching memoir, an emotional rollercoaster told in a straight-forward, no-holds-barred manner. In the version I read, photos and a foreword have been added to the original publication. These contributed to the personality of Shoko.

Unfamiliar as I am with yakuza society (somewhat like a Japanese mafia), this book brought me into lifestyles I knew nothing about; I also learned to see a tattoo as a complete work of art, which in Japan it truly is. These tattoos are full-body canvases, extremely detailed and historical art. Shoko was the middle child in a family of three girls and a boy, her father a yakuza, in a life of plenty. Fearful of her father's rages, bullied at school, discriminated against and insecure, Shoko's lifestyle had already begun to change at the tender age of twelve when her older sister took her to a club and passed her off as 18. The next several years of her life are spent in drugged out sex, used and abused. When all goes wrong at home, her father resigns as a yakuza and is pursued by yakuza loan sharks. Shoko falls into the trap of one man, a former friend of her father. His false promises to help her father with his financial problems and his Jeckyl and Hyde personality drags her deep into his net. Misguided in what is expected of her, she sinks deeper and deeper.

Shoko does not try to lecture in her book, but is faithful to her memories. She does not dwell on her situation but writes with an honesty and thoroughness that through her worst times I could feel the disassociation she finally reaches. Intense, poignant, numbed and broken, she lays it all on the line. Her emergence from this darkness is wonderful to read and shows the strength of her true character. This memoir is a real eye-opener of horrendous abuse and the intimidation that denies escape. Exceptionally well-written for a debut. I highly recommend this book.

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