Picks and Pans Review: Pictures from the Water Trade

updated 06/10/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/10/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by John David Morley

The central character of this unusual book—it is nonfiction yet reads like a novel—is called Boon, which the Japanese pronounce "Bun." His story is subtitled "Adventures of a Westerner in Japan," but Boon is no tourist. He is a Westerner who sets out to learn everything he can about the Japanese. "The framing of questions in Japanese was an art," Boon found, "an instrument to be handled with great delicacy and care. A direct question at an untimely moment could prove very destructive, merely by virtue of its directness." One afternoon Boon stumbles into a too-expensive restaurant. He is rescued by a mysterious, sybaritic Japanese man. Through him Boon is introduced to the "water trade," a world of the ardent pursuit of sensual gratification that, Boon realizes, is a basic part of the culture for Japanese men. Then Boon meets and falls in love with a beautiful, elusive Japanese woman who works in a bar. After a year of immersion in Japan, Boon finds "an uneasy sense of dissociation. He spoke words which were not his own and whose meaning he sometimes did not even understand, expressions of self-effacement, in particular, caution, superfluous agreement, solicitude and deference which he did not feel." Morley, educated at Oxford and now working for Japanese television in West Germany, has produced a fascinating book. (Atlantic Monthly Press, $16.95)

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