Now You're One of Us
by Asa Nonami
Translated by Michael & Mitsuko Volek;
Review by Ernest Lilley
Vertical Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781934287033
Date: 18 December 2007 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
"We accept her! We accept her! One of us! One of us! Gooble gobble, gooble gobble! One of us! One of us!" - Freaks, 1932
"Resistance is futile" - Locutus of Borg, Star Trek: The Best of Both Worlds, 1990
In Now You're One Of Us, translated from the Japanese original by Michael and Mitsuko Volek, Noriko, a modern Japanese girl, marries into a family that seems too good to be true, except for the part about having eight people and four generations living under one roof ... and that one of the requirements of the marriage is that she moves in with them. Not for the first time, but none the less disturbing for the classic nature of the theme, does a young bride discover that she's not just marrying a handsome young man, but becoming part of a clan with dark ways and hidden agendas.
"One of us" is one of those phrases that resonates in readers' minds, whether they're thinking of the demonic chanting of the circus freaks in Tod Browning's classic and disturbing movie from the '30s (Freaks, 1932) or the nearly as creepy apartment makeover video of the 1981 ABBA song of the same title (One Of Us). Whatever it brings to mind for you, the dilemma of the outsider coming to grips with the merging of her identity with a group, and especially the impact it has on a bride, is a timeless meme as unavoidable as death, and perhaps as transforming.
Noriko had met a number of possible suitors through the matchmaking service before, but Kazuhito was the first one she hadn't been repelled by. In fact, he was more or less everything she'd hoped for in a husband, good looking, considerate, and from a well-established family, one that owned a prosperous rice business. The only odd thing was that his entire family of eight, going back to their great grandmother, lived together under one roof. Possibly this wasn't an unusual arrangement once upon a time, but modern couples needed more privacy, and Noriko is a very modern girl.
Though the notion of living with Kazuhito's family makes her pretty sure she'll have to pass on his offer of marriage, Noriko agrees to meet the family to see what they're like. As it turns out, they're wonderful people, open and welcoming ... immediately taking to her. The aged great grandmother assures Kazuhito that the girl will be his treasure, and the treasure of all the family. For reasons she doesn't understand, this doesn't creep her out at all. In fact, bending down to let the 100-odd-year-old woman stroke her hair, she feels deeply at peace.
Soon after the marriage, though, she starts to realize that the warm, loving family is part facade, part tip of the iceberg, and that the power and prestige that the clan holds in its community comes as much from what they grow in the garden as from the high-quality rice they sell in the family store. There are secrets here that no one may know and leave to tell the world about ... but there is always room for one more ... of us.
Secret gardens and family secrets don't belong to any one culture, though in some respects this garden reminded me of one in Ian Fleming's Bond novel You Only Live Twice, which bore little resemblance to the movie, not that that wasn't fun in its own way. That garden was filled with a vast collection of poisonous plants, all deadly, many beautiful. This garden doesn't kill so much as enable your assimilation into a collective where self is submerged every bit as much as by Star Trek's Borg. This isn't quite science fiction, though I kept wondering if cloning or genetic modification would emerge as the man behind the curtain. Instead it's a story about old arts and the bending of wills, the keeping of secrets, and the thick blood of family.