When 33-year-old Celeste Duncan receives a package of mysterious items from her late aunt Michiko—a non-blood relative she hasn’t seen in decades—it’s like receiving a puzzling gift from a stranger. Everything changes, however, when various items in the box, including a photo of six-year-old Celeste in a kimono, begin to rekindle long-forgotten memories from her childhood, such as vague recollections of an “Aunt Mitch.” Celeste had been shuffled through a series of foster homes as a child and never had a true sense of family, so when she learns that Mitch’s sister in Japan may know the identity of her biological father, Celeste says sayonara to California and gives a nervous but determined konnichiwa to Tokyo, where she embarks on a homestay situation that is fraught with misunderstandings and culture clashes. Not to mention a sexy homestay “brother” named Takuya . . . as if things weren’t complicated enough!

As Celeste’s crush on Takuya grows, so does her affection for the strange and wonderful world she has immersed herself in. Her search for clues about her family takes her in unexpected directions, and soon the unconventional help of Mariko, her potty-mouthed Japanese language instructor, and a newfound love for singing Japanese music change her life irrevocably.

Love in Translation is romantic, fun and frequently laugh-out-loud funny. Celeste’s inner monologues about the oddness of the places and people she encounters (including a viciously perky television hostess) are a riot, and the lanky Takuya grows more adorable—and their burgeoning romance more sweet—as Celeste’s infatuation intensifies. It’s not easy being a gaijin—foreigner—in Japan, what with all the gaping and gawking that takes place on trains or even just walking down the street, but Takuya provides Celeste with a refuge from all of that. A disapproving homestay mother who is not afraid to meddle and a surprise ex-girlfriend provide entertaining conflict for the would-be lovers. Meanwhile, the connections that Celeste makes as she searches for details on her past are touching, while the perspectives offered on Japan make for a fascinating and light-hearted cross-cultural study. Heartwarming in its takes on family, love and finding one’s voice, Wendy Nelson Tokunaga has written a book that will charm readers worldwide.

Sheri Bodoh writes from Eldridge, Iowa. 

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