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From The Asian Reporter, V17, #13 (March 27, 2007), page 17.

Adventures with utensils

How My Parents Learned to Eat
By Ina R. Friedman
Illustrations by Allen Say
Houghton Mifflin, 1984
Paperback, 32 pages, $5.95

By Josephine Bridges

When my mother met my father, she was a Japanese schoolgirl and he was an American sailor," the narrator of this story tells us. Every day Aiko and John meet to walk and chat in Yokohama, where Johnís ship is stationed. Itís clear enough that these two like each other, but they have a problem. Aiko doesnít know how to eat with a knife and fork, and John ó you guessed it ó hasnít mastered chopsticks. Will the budding sweethearts manage a dinner date before Johnís ship sails away?

How My Parents Learned to Eat is written in English and aimed at Western children, but the author does a wonderful job of making Aikoís difficulty with mashed potatoes and peas as believable as Johnís with sukiyaki. "My mother looked at the small fork and the large fork on the left. She looked at the knife, little spoon, and big spoon on the right. Her head grew dizzy." Aiko manages the soup and mashed potatoes during her practice lunch with Great Uncle, who has visited England, but "the peas rolled all over the plate."

For his part, John stays up all night before their first dinner, "pretending to pick up sukiyaki" with a pair of pencils. Are these two made for each other, or what?

Allen Sayís watercolor illustrations are, as usual, just right. His pictures of sukiyaki ingredients make my mouth water, and if you look carefully, you can see that the mattress John sits on is just slightly compressed beneath his weight. Itís details like these ó as well as signs in the streets that make me want to learn to read Japanese and coils of old telephone cords that evoke a certain odd nostalgia ó that bring a childrenís book alive.

Ina R. Friedman is no slouch, either. Itís not easy to present a familiar culture as strange, but sheís up to the challenge. And Johnís marriage proposal is one of a kind, as is Aikoís acceptance. Read How My Parents Learned to Eat and then eat sukiyaki with chopsticks or roast beef, mashed potatoes, and peas with a knife and fork, whichever seems like more of an adventure.

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books

  Amazon