Book Review: My Year of Meats, Ruth Ozeki (1998)

Monday, October 27th, 2014

“Meat is the Message”

four out of five stars

(Trigger warning for violence against women and animals, including sexual assault and rape.)

When Jane Takagi-Little finally lands a job–producing a Japanese television show sponsored by BEEF-EX, an organization promoting the export of U.S. meats–she takes her crew on the road in search of all-American wives cooking all-American meat. Over the course of filming, though, Jane makes a few troubling discoveries about both. Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, in Japan, Akiko Ueno watches My American Wife! and diligently prepares Coca-Cola Roast and Panfried Prairie Oysters for her husband, John, (the ad-agency rep for the show’s sponsor). As Akiko fills out his questionnaires, rating each show on Authenticity, Wholesomeness, and Deliciousness of Meat, certain ominous questions about her own life–and the fact that after each meal she has to go to the bathroom and throw up–begin to surface. A tale of love, global media, and the extraordinary events in the lives of two ordinary women, counterpointed by Sei Shonagon’s vibrant commentary, this first novel by filmmaker Ruth L. Ozeki–as insightful and moving as the novels of Amy Tan, as original as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. or John Irving–is a sparkling and original debut from a major new talent.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats. On impulse, I picked up a copy of the original hardcover edition at the dollar store. That was nearly a decade ago; in the intervening years I hemmed and hawed and wondered whether I really wanted to read a fictionalized account of a documentarian hired to promote meat – feed lots, kill floors, and all – after all. (I’m a vegan, and have devoured my fair share of nonfiction books about the animal agriculture industry already. Enough is enough.)

(More below the fold…)