Donald Keene - Chronicles of My Life: An American in the Heart of Japan

Chronicles of My Life starts off so wonderfully. I was instantly sucked in. My 12-year old son was too. We blasted through the first half in no time flat. The latter half or so wasn't nearly as engaging. My son didn't even stick with it and finish. I did finish reading until the end but have to admit it's not as interesting a read after World War II or so.

Keene's analysis of what makes a good teacher/lecturer is spot on and applies to this book as well. Keene says that his worst professors were those who got up and read their lectures, being very careful to get all of the names, dates, and places correct. Boring. The best were the ones that didn't read a thing or concern themselves with lists of names, dates, etc. but, instead, presented their enthusiasm and excitement for the subject. Bingo!

Unfortunately, Keene falls into the boring professor trap at times. When he shows his enthusiasm for the topic, event, experience, etc. this memoir is a real page turner. When he goes into names and dates detail and includes lists of people he went out to dinner with on what day, etc. the reader is left wondering who he is writing this for. Basically, when he writes for someone who doesn't know him or his story he can be very interesting. When he writes to be sure to include the names of the famous, his friends, and colleagues those of us who don't fall into those categories get little from the text.

If you have an interest in Japan, you should definitely read at least the first part of this book. The quality of the paper is top notch and the little illustrations are lots of fun--especially if you can read Japanese.

from the publisher:

"I sometimes think that if, as the result of an accident, I were to lose my knowledge of Japanese, there would not be much left for me. Japanese, which at first had no connection with my ancestors, my literary tastes, or my awareness of myself as a person, has become the central element of my life."
In this eloquent and wholly absorbing memoir, the renowned scholar Donald Keene shares more than half a century of his extraordinary adventures as a student of Japan. Keene begins with an account of his bittersweet childhood in New York; then he describes his initial encounters with Asia and Europe and the way in which World War II complicated that experience. He captures the sights, scents, and sounds of Japan as they first enveloped him, and talks of the unique travels and well-known intellectuals who later shaped the contours of his academic career.

Keene traces the movement of his passions with delicacy and subtlety, deftly weaving his love for Japan into a larger narrative about identity and home and the circumstances that led a Westerner to find solace in a country on the opposite side of the world. Chronicles of My Life is not only a fascinating tale of two cultures colliding, but also a thrilling account of the emotions and experiences that connect us all, regardless of our individual origins.