Greetings, readers! My name is Sareeta Domingo, and I’m an author and fiction editor. It’s my great pleasure to be bringing you a Book of the Week, each week here on Morning Mari.
This week, my selection is a novel that strikingly explores the complex lives of a mother and her son in dual narratives, set decades apart. It’s the dazzling first novel by award winning author Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, Harmless Like You.
In the book’s intriguing, deftly succinct Prologue, set in Berlin, we see a man who we’ll later learn to be one of the protagonists, Jay, meeting Yuki, a woman who, it transpires, is Jay’s long-estranged mother. We’re then transported to Yuki’s life in the late sixties and into the seventies as she navigates the bohemian, dangerous, sometimes repellent landscape of New York City. She develops a friendship with whirlwind glamourpuss Odile, and is reluctantly allowed to pursue her dreams of being an artist in the city when her parents return to their native Japan.
We also follow Jay in the present day as a grown man whose mother had abandoned him as a baby in search of these artistic pursuits. Jay is a recently new father who perhaps ironically deals in Asian artworks, the nature of which his estranged mother will herself be classed as creating.
Buchanan’s vivid use of language itself evokes a true artist’s touch, that really situates us in the perspective of Yuki in particular, but we’re also truly immersed in the peculiarities of Jay’s character through the humour in his own internal turns of phrase, and his utter devotion to his hairless cat, Celeste.
The interactions between the two central characters towards the books conclusion are tense and guardedly tender. We see a culmination of the impact of the years they’ve spent apart, and the expectation of familial connection, or lack thereof. Through this novel, Buchanan astutely explores the difficulties of being present in our own lives, and the inescapable nature of being where and who we are. It’s a beautiful novel, and that is why Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan is my Book of the Week this week.