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Fault Lines    by Emily Itami order for
Fault Lines
by Emily Itami
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2021 (2021)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Fault Lines is a perfect title for Emily Itami's first novel. Her main character, Mizuki, is caught between her love for Tokyo and her fear of earthquakes, particularly when she's far down in the earth while riding the Metro. It's the 'lurking possibility of death by earthquake that does it. It doesn't make her feel any calmer that the Namboku line is the deepest in Tokyo' and she 'has no idea whether this makes it more or less likely that in the event of an earthquake all the walls would cave in.' However, it's the earthquake in her own life caused by her chance meeting with Kiyoshi that is Mizuki's main problem.

Going to New York as an exchange student at the age of sixteen changed Mizuki. She had been an excellent student in her local school, and her father was so proud when she was accepted into the program, but she was terrified as she left her parents and rural home in Japan behind for New York City. Not only would she have to learn to function using a second language, she would also be living with strangers in a city that was so large and different from her home in Japan that when she landed in New York she just wanted to get back on the plane and go home.

The enthusiastic welcome she received from Cassie and her parents calmed her enough for her to quietly adjust, and as time passed the thought of the societal constraints put on women in Japan became unacceptable to her. She became a lounge singer in New York, and when homesickness for a place where everyone spoke her native tongue overcame her, she continued singing in low-class bars in Tokyo - the only places where she could find work.

When we meet Mizuki, she has been in a relationship with her husband Tatsu for sixteen years. 'So long that the time is not far off when I'll be able to say, with pride or incredulity, that I've been with him over half my life.' She has a good life, married to a successful, handsome, hard-working man, and mother to two beautiful children, a nine-year-old daughter and a four-year-old son. She doesn't know what to do about the huge hole she feels in her heart.

Her husband has become remote, seeming to spend all his time and energy on his job, her children are driving her to distraction with their petty, childish demands, and even though this is a normal life for a married Japanese woman, it isn't enough. Even the part-time job she finds - introducing foreigners to Tokyo with tours of the city and advice about all the different societal customs that will make their lives easier - doesn't help with that inner turbulence. When she meets Kiyoshi at the gym, she is weeping as she runs on an exercise machine. Her own personal earthquake begins at that point.

I loved this book so much that I read it slowly, savoring the blend of humor and angst with which Mizuki reflects on her life. She's caught so emotionally between her family life and her attraction to Kyoshi that I was never able to predict how she was going to resolve her dilemma without all of her walls falling in on her. I also learned a lot about life in modern Tokyo, where earthquakes are common and casually brushed - off until an inevitable one that knocks down buildings and injures or kills people. Itami's delightful writing style manages to show the humorous side of Mizuki's dilemma with all of her problems.

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