Saturday, October 17, 2015

Q&A with Tracy Slater

Tracy Slater is the author of the new memoir The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self, and Home on the Far Side of the World, which focuses on her marriage to a Japanese man and her life between Japan and the United States. She is the founder of the Four Stories global literary series, and her writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Boston Globe, The New York Times, and Post Road Magazine.

Q: Why did you decide to write your book?

A: Most of all, I wanted to write something with a story people could get swept away by, because that's what I love most about reading.

But I suppose I also wanted to share with people what I Iearned, and what I struggled with, from ending up in a life- and a relationship-least expected.

I thought maybe the story of my multicultural marriage, in a land where I never imagined I'd live, might give readers something to think about.

Ultimately, I hope people who are facing paths very different from the ones they ever planned on following, find some level of comfort or reassurance in the book, some hint that sometimes we can give up or swerve off of our strict plan and end up right where we are supposed to be....

Q: In the book, you explore life in two very different cities, Boston and Osaka. What was it like to move to a city with more traditional cultural expectations for women, and how did you reconcile your two homes?

A: I'm not sure I'd say that Japan is my home, much as I love certain parts about it. Boston is my home, and Toru is my home. But Japan will always be both my beloved's home and a place where I am very much a foreigner.

As for the gender issues, I was surprised to realize that in many ways, the foreignness of Japan itself helps neutralize them for me. I write about this in the book and about my ambivalence over realizing this, but it's true, so admitting I feel this sort of remove is important in the service of being honest, I think.

Even my own more "traditional" life here, as essentially a "shufu" or housewife, fails to impact me as much as I think it would were I playing this role in the U.S....

Q: What would you say are some of the most important ingredients to make a multicultural relationship successful?

A: This is a great question, but since I've never really been in a successful relationship before--if you define success as wanting to stay together for a really long time--I'm honestly not sure I know the difference between what makes relationships successful and what makes a multicultural one successful. Or even what makes any relationship successful beyond my own!

But what makes my particular relationship work, I think, is a combination of my having enormous respect for my husband (which frankly makes it easier to let him off the hook sometimes!), of Toru being able to make me laugh a lot, which happens to be really important to me; and of our having really similar needs and priorities around relationships, despite all of our vast differences.

Q: What do your family members think of the book?

A: There were part of the book that I know they wished I hadn't written about, certain scenes they felt were private and didn't really want someone else making public.

I cleared everything with them before I published it, and they were enormously generous in ultimately giving me their blessings to publish the book as it is now, but I know that in a perfect world, they would have preferred for me to be able to tell my story as I felt l needed to without needing to narrate certain things that happened when my family was a bit in crisis mode. I am very, very grateful to them for their support and their generosity in this.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Well, as readers who finish the book will know, our family has expanded a little bit since I started writing the memoir, and now I'm the mother of a little girl who is both Japanese, like my husband; and Jewish-American, like me.

As I wrote about, I had a lot of fears about motherhood, a lot of fears about whether and how it would overwhelm me, despite my searing desire to have Toru's child and to meet the baby I felt sure we were supposed to meet.

So, like we all find I guess, another life stage is another mix of contradictions! I'm finding motherhood wonderful and also terrifying at times. And I'm working on making sense of, and hopefully writing about, this new experience of being both lost and found.

My daughter is essentially an integral part of me, of my flesh and blood, and yet also part…of a culture that will always…see me as a foreigner.  

And I'm fascinated by this mix of contradictions and also by how I think it reflects the contradictions inherent in any child/parent relationship: the intimacy and the distance, the belonging and the exile, the being one in some ways and yet being totally separate in others. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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