I didn’t pick up this book expecting to find a mixed character; it was a pleasant surprise to encounter Jane Takagi-Little, Ozeki’s determined and curious narrator. Researching for a critical paper, I approached My Year of Meats as a novel of “social responsibility,” managing to incorporate elements of racism, classism, sexism, the globalization of Western culture and the dark side of the meat industry. Ozeki tackles these topics with precise and engaging prose that invites the reader to understand the perspectives of her characters. Jane has a passion for documentaries, yet finds herself as the producer/part-time director for the Japanese network show “This American Wife:” which films American housewives preparing meat-based meals as an example for aspiring Japanese women. Sponsored by the big company BEEF-EX, Jane is pressured to find women who fit a perfect stereotype, though she consistently breaks the mold by filming families that showcase diversity. As she and her crew descend deeper into the meat-loving world, they discover some disturbing practices of the industry that take a very personal turn.
Along the way, Jane navigates her family, love and work lives as a mixed person, facing questions about her own skills and authenticity. Jane has a complicated relationship with her mother who sees her as this big-boned American girl whose values she doesn’t recognize. Jane herself becomes obsessed with the idea of hybridity when she engages in a short-lived relationship with Emil, an African American she meets and pursues. Her boss and coworkers doubt her ability to understand what the Japanese television audience demands because of her American roots. Through it, Jane persists for truth, her narrative intersecting with that of a young woman in Japan, Akiko.
- “Being half, I am evidence that race, too, will become relic. Eventually we’re all going to be brown – sort of. Some days, when I’m feeling grand, I feel brand-new – like a prototype. …Now, oddly, I straddle this blessed, ever-shrinking world” (15).
- “I am not fat, but my tallness amounts to the same sort of gross affront to nature, at least to my Japanese mother, who comes up to my rib cage. She sees my height as a personal insult and something that should have been avoided. …she gazes skyward and blames the red meat she fed me as a child” (123).
- “I learned what I needed: a mate who was black, brown or red, to go with my white and yellow. At the very least, I was aiming for three out of five” (151).
Here’s a link to Ozeki’s website to check out this book and her other works.