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  • Deborah MB

Beware of bruising, in 'Cultivating a Fuji' by Miriam Drori

In Cultivating a Fuji, we witness the life and work of Martin, an extremely awkward computer expert who is forced to visit Japan on a business trip. There, he finds his own courage to break through the walls he has erected from childhood. As we revisit his life, we also find out about a wide range of the people who meet him; we observe and judge them, as they try to navigate the interactions with someone they do not fully understand, someone who makes them uncomfortable.

This is a tale on the depths of the old adage, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, with an added twist: the village does not necessarily know how to raise children, who will in turn grow up and affect others in turn. By presenting this mirror of social behaviours, Miriam Drori invites the readers to reconsider their own behaviours as we encounter people whose circumstances we only glimpse.

Who would enjoy this

This is a volume for those looking for an optimistic happy end. It will definitely please those with social and behavioural interests, as it presents issues such as Social Anxiety, bullying, societal expectations, child abuse/neglect, etc. If you, as a reader, like being challenged and pushed to revise your own responsibilities towards others; like being encouraged to be more aware; like being reminded that everyone is capable of improving as a human being, then this is a story for you.

Who should give this a pass

Social issues are never an easy subject to address, and this book spares no one on their stark repercussions. If you are looking for an easy ride, where the good and bad characters are clear and simple, give this a pass. Also, I would recommend those with painful experiences on bullying, sexual molestation, and similar backgrounds, to pick up the tome with caution - it will bring up memories and emotions. If you have not resolved them before you are faced with the events in the book, you may find yourself too vulnerable.

Conclusions and suggestions

Miriam Drori’s Cultivating a Fuji is as carefully built as Martin’s computer programmes, from the parallel opening and closing chapters, to the descriptions of characters’ backgrounds, to the detailed spaces where the events take place (if you are British, you will feel right at home, and rightly so). The clear twofold aim, both to make the reader reconsider the impact of their behaviours toward others, and to remind them that change is as possible as desirable, is built throughout the work. Everyone has reasons for behaving the way they do, but how right are they to do so?

I must admit, it made me uncomfortable at times, which I assume was Ms Drori’s aim. It was very effective in making me self-judge, which is never a happy time albeit helpful. I applaud her ability to create that through indirect narrative. In fact, I believe it was much more effective than the chapters where Martin, successful in overcoming his Social Anxiety, pontificates by doing a whole presentation on his life to his former classmates/bullies. Those chapters strike of showing off despite the repeated assertion that he understands they were children and did not know any better.

Additionally, I found the information on random characters who interact with Martin to be interesting, but excessive at times. This is particularly true as there seems to be no good rationale behind who gets ‘screen time’ – why, for example, do we learn more about Adrienne Harris-Morley’s life, the lady at the passport office, than about Tetsuya Watanabe’s, who hosts and translates for Martin in Japan? This is also true of the range of issues the people introduce, all the way to orphaned refugees. At a certain point, the story gets a bit too populated, and we lose focus on the main subjects.

To sum up, anyone attempting a similar work should consider:

- evaluating relevance of, and how much, certain details can enrich/weight down the story.

- what is the most powerful frame of delivery for impact.

- subject focus.

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