My Year of Meats

readers' guide

1. Each chapter of "My Year of Meats" opens with an excerpt from Sei Shonagon's "The Pillow Book." Consider the interplay between these quotes and the narrative's trajectory. How does this interjection from the past enrich the novel? How does the Sei Shonagon voice shape your relationship to the characters. 2. On the surface, Jane and Akiko appear to be opposites. Jane is physically strong, while Akiko is frail. Jane is fiercely independent while Akiko is submissive to her husband. Are there any similarities between the two? How do they complement each other?

3. In the beginning of Chapter 3, Jane makes this comment, "One requisite for a good documentarian: you must shamelessly take what is available." What does this assertion tell you about Jane? At the end of Jane's year of meats, do you think that she still believes it? If not, at what point in the novel do you think she changed her mind? Do you think that "shamelessly taking what is available" is a necessary part of being a documentarian or a journalist?

4. Our exposure to the media has reached a fever pitch. Increasingly, we are bombarded by instant information via television, print, radio, and the Internet. Is this a positive development? What is your own "screen" for judging information received in the media? Has your reading of "My Year of Meats" suggested any new possibilities for your own relationship with media sources?

5. How does this novel treat the question of cultural, ethnic, and gender stereotypes? Did it challenge any of your own perceptions or biases? Consider, too, how the media perpetuates and/or dismantles stereotypes.

6. Chapter 2 begins with this quote from "The Pillow Book": "When I make myself imagine what it is like to be one of those women who live at home, faithfully serving their husbands, women who have not a single exciting prospect in life yet who believe they are happy, I am filled with scorn." Akiko and Jane, as well as the women featured on "My American Wife!" reflect the starkly different roles women play both in Japan and within America. Of all of the women featured in the novel, with whom did you most identify? Were there any that you upheld as models for what women should aspire to be?

7. Think about some of the male characters in "My Year of Meats." There is Suzuki, who has a "passion for Jack Daniels, Wal-Mart,and American hard-core pornography"; Oh, who is Suzuki's drinking companion; and Joichi Ueno, Akiko's violent husband with a fondness for Texas strippers. Do these characters' affinity for pornography seep into the way that they relate to women?

8. Early on in the novel, Jane says, "All over the world, native species are migrating, if not disappearing, and in the next millennium the idea of an indigenous person or plant or culture will just seem quaint." Do you believe that this is true? If so, do you percieve it as a step toward a more peaceful, accepting world, or as a step away from a diverse, well-textured world? Is it possible to maintain cultural diversity without prejudice?

9. Consider Jane's and Sloan's relationship. It seems that the same qualities that makes Jane successful in her career - strength and control - become obstacles in developing an intimate relationship with Sloan. Have you encountered this problem in your own relationships? At any point did you find yourself impatient with Jane or Sloan? Why? Were you surprised to see them together in the end? Do you think that the novel is optimistic about intimacy? Are you?

10. "Truth lies in layers, each one thin and barely opaque, like skin, resisting the tug to be told. As a documentarian I think about this a lot. In the edit, timing is everything. There is a time to peel back." Consider the way the novel plays with the notions of "truth" and "authenticity." What do these words mean to Jane? To Akiko? To John Ueno? To the Wives? To the author? What forms of denial of truth do the various characters practice, and how do they "peel back"? What does the novel imply about denial in our world today?