SNAP JUDGEMENT: BOOKS

Country of Origin by Don Lee

It's 1980, and Lisa Countryman, an exotic young American, goes missing in Tokyo. She had been working as a hostess at an exclusive bar, claiming to be doing research on Japanese women for her dissertation. But Lisa, half Asian and half black, has a secret agenda, which becomes clear only late in the book. Almost all the characters--including a junior U.S. diplomat assigned to her case and a Japanese cop on her trail--have complex issues with race. In this innovative first novel set on the eve of Japan's economic boom, Lee, a Korean-American who grew up in Tokyo and Seoul, tells a poignant story of prejudice, betrayal and the search for identity.

The Generation of 'Uchira' and 'Osoro' by Yasuko Nakamura

In Japan, high-school girls have created numerous fads, including Tamagotch, extra-baggy white socks and text messaging. Nobody knows them better than Nakamura, Tokyo's teen-marketing guru, who has worked with 100,000 girls during her 18-year career. This collection of essays, published in Japanese, reveals some of their girl talk (the title refers to slang words uchira, or "we," and osoro, meaning "in the same design"); how they spend their days (karaoke), what they treasure (cell phones) and what makes them sick (roaches, teachers and middle-aged men). An illuminating look at a little-understood group.

Little Scarlet by Walter Mosley

It has always been Mosley's intention to write the social history of Los Angeles through the eyes of a black private detective. But who knew he would do it so well? "Little Scarlet," the eighth novel in the series, takes place in the aftermath of the Watts riots in 1965, when Easy Rawlins tries to find a white man suspected of murdering a black woman. This is a page turner that poses the question: how many different ways are there to define heartbreak? We lost count about halfway through.

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