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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Farewell, My Orange

Iwaki Kei

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To purchase Farewell, My Orange

Title: Farewell, My Orange
Author: Iwaki Kei
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 135 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Farewell, My Orange - US
Farewell, My Orange - UK
Farewell, My Orange - Canada
Arrivederci, arancione - Italia
  • Japanese title: さようなら、オレンジ
  • Translated by Meredith McKinney

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Our Assessment:

B : a bit spare, but solid life-portraits of characters thrust into another language and life

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Asahi . 20/10/2013 Ono Masatsugu
Financial Times . 14/12/2018 Eileen Battersby
World Lit. Today A+ Winter/2019 R.A. Papinchak

  From the Reviews:
  • "Translator Meredith McKinney effectively sustains the contrasts between the panicked, eager-to-survive warmth of Salimah, and the rather more austere rage underlying Sayuri’s detailed letters to her now retired teacher. (...) Though never approaching the limpid eloquence of Japanese writer Tsushima Yuko (...) Iwaki’s less obviously stylistically sophisticated narrative does convey the sense of women attempting to contend with social, cultural, class, and -- in this book -- additional linguistic obstacles. (...) In this unexpectedly riveting work, as spare as it is detailed, with its emphasis on learning at differing levels, Iwaki proves how the most important lesson concerns empathy." - Eileen Battersby, Financial Times

  • "(T)he slim novel itself is sly and deceptive. Ostensibly, it appears to be about immigrants, friendship, family, and education. But it is also overwhelmingly about language -- its power, its influence, its effects -- and its ability to create worlds—physical and emotional, real and imagined." - Robert Allen Papinchak, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Farewell, My Orange is set in a seaside town in Australia, but its main characters are both relative newcomers to this country (and language) -- both refugees, in different ways. The novel's chapters alternate between ones focused on a young woman, Salimah/Nakichi who came from Africa with her husband and two young sons -- actual refugees --, and the Japanese Echidna/Sayuri, who came here with her husband, who is pursuing an academic career at the local university. (The different names for the characters can, initially, be a bit confusing; the reason why they are referred to by different names, depending on the chapter, is eventually (very late on) explained.) The chapters focused on Echidna/Sayuri consist of letters and e-mails she sends -- more detailed ones, which she addresses to her teacher/mentor, who is encouraging her to keep up with her (creative) writing, as well as some very brief announcements that are sent to a larger circle. The chapters focused on Salimah/Nakichi are presented in the third person, and more generally describe her life and activities.
       The novel covers several years in these two characters' lives, which run parallel and largely separate, but also have some overlaps. Both struggle in trying to adapt to living abroad, making few personal connections. Both have some family difficulties as well: Salimah/Nakichi's husband abandons her and her sons, and then, a few years later, one of their sons moves away to live with him, while Echidna/Sayuri's husband, while supportive, is busy and often absent -- and the family also suffers a great personal tragedy. Both struggle, in particular, with the language: as Echidna/Sayuri explains to her teacher: "we can only make our way through English. We can only rely on this language in order to be treated as human beings".
       The two women both wind up taking the same English-as-a-second-language class. The one on offer at the local college lumps all levels together:

     There was no beginning, intermediate, or advanced; the motley collection of students hathered in the one room spent their time doing neutral activities that all levels could handle.
       Salimah/Nakichi barely has any command of the language at first, and the writing system is unfamiliar to her too; she had some schooling in her homeland, but all this is new to her. (The war-torn homeland she fled is never identified; Echidna/Sayuri thinks she is: "a refugee from the Sudan or Somalia" ("her native language is tribal, and though she says she's learned some Arabic, she couldn't get to the classes properly because of the chaos in her country"), which is plausible; the jacket-copy on the book claims she is from Nigeria, which is not.) It takes her years to get a grip on the language, and to be able to read well, but she does make slow, consistent progress.
       Echidna/Sayuri's reading and writing skills are more advanced, though English continues to remain something of a barrier. But she also sees examples of the importance of language-knowledge elsewhere -- regularly reading to a trucker-neighbor who happens to be illiterate, for example. She is encouraged to continue her own academic studies -- but the more rudimentary ESL class also proves an environment that provides the support she eventually needs.
       Soon after arriving, Salimah/Nakichi got a job cutting and packaging meat at a local supermarket -- a job her husband had given up on. She works the night shift, with horrible hours, but she's a very good worker, picking up the skills quickly, and, even if she has difficulty communicating, becomes a model employee. Eventually, a broken Echidna/Sayuri also comes to work there, which draws the women closer again.
       Somewhat choppily, the novel tells the story of these two women's changing worlds as they adapt to living in Australia. Despite how different their lives and many of their circumstances are, they face many of the same hardships -- struggling financially; emotionally damaged by ruptures in their families. They both manage to find stronger holds with time, growing comfortable with their situations and prospects, in no small part because their command of the local language improves. Echidna/Sayuri's long evolution into a writer finally comes to fruition, as she finds herself on firm enough footing to find her voice, and a story (hmmm, wonder what that could be ....) -- facilitated by the strong support of friends she has and makes, and then a new start with her own family; Salimah/Nakichi finds stability and satisfaction in her job and then with the one son who remains with her, finding joy in seeing how he manages to fit in.
       Echidna/Sayuri sees in everything Salimah/Nakichi has gone through how: "a second language is a second chance". For her own writing -- at least of the story she wants to tell --, she turns (back) to Japanese, but it is a firm hold in English that give both her and Salimah/Nakichi the footing they need.
       Farewell, My Orange is a fairly appealing and certainly affecting small tale of lives from very different cultures and backgrounds meeting (aside from the main duo several of the secondary characters also have somewhat unusual backgrounds, from the workplace supervisor to the trucker-neighbor) and how they find their ways in small-town Australia. Covering several years -- and looking back also to, for example, the world and life Salimah/Nakichi fled --, the novel can feel skimpy on the transitions, all the more noticeably because specific events and encounters are treated so very up-close and intimately, but on the whole it's reasonably successful.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 November 2018

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Farewell, My Orange: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Iwaki Kei (岩城けい) was born in 1971.

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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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