“The Good Shufu” is the true story of a “left-leaning, 36-year-old confirmed Bostonian” who falls in love with her Japanese MBA student, Toru, after a three-week courtship in Kobe. With self-deprecating humor and a sharp recognition of the prejudices and stereotypes operating at both ends of the globe, author Tracy Slater quietly breaks down assumptions with a keen sense of humor. She transmutes the mundane into subtle life lessons whether negotiating with her disapproving new husband if she should get a housekeeper (he eventually buys a vacuum cleaner instead) or bonding with her father-in-law over cooking chicken parmigiana without an oven (“I … sliced up the chicken and cooked it in pieces on the fish grill, smashing down the cheese topping so it would fit, splattering tomato sauce everywhere.”).
Never preachy, the charm of the book lies in her shrewd wit: “I felt a sudden wave of conceit go through me. I grabbed Toru’s fingers, pride surging that I was there with a Japanese man who held my hand, unlike the obvious tourists sitting next to us, those poor souls lacking any real access to this mysterious world. I glanced pityingly at their tube socks and fanny packs, my compassion feeling generous.”
Slater structures her memoir around the identified stages of cultural acclimation: departure, the honeymoon stage, the disintegration stage, the reintegration stage. What it adds up to is a love story that makes me think as much as I laughed aloud. “The Good Shufu” is a literary memoir with enough cross-cultural wisdom to warrant a place on any Japanophile’s bookshelf.