"Gaijin" Explores The Experience Of Being An Outsider
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / November 9, 2020
The feeling of being an outsider is the theme explored in San Diego writer Susan Sleeper’s story, titled “ Gaijin.”
Speaker 1: 00:00 The feeling of being an outsider is the theme explored in San Diego writer, Susan sleeper story titled guide Jean it's sleepers first novel. And it's a coming of age tale that sheds light on the uncomfortable relationship between the residents of Okinawa, Japan, and the American community centered on the military base there. Sarah as Libra joins us. Sarah. Welcome. Hi,
Speaker 2: 00:23 Thank you. I'm so thrilled to be talking to Alison
Speaker 1: 00:26 Goodwill note, start off by telling us what the title of your book means. That's guide Jean. Why did you choose that title?
Speaker 2: 00:32 Sure. Well, the word guy, Jean is a Japanese word. That's, it's not a slur. Exactly, but it is not necessarily favorable. And it gens to refer to a person who is not Japanese as sort of like an unwanted intruder, unwanted alien.
Speaker 1: 00:51 Your book is telling the story of a girl, Lucy, who goes to Japan in search of a love that she's lost. And in search of a Japanese culture that she saw as very refined and delicate, you know, like haiku poems and delicate tea sets. What did she actually discover when she got there?
Speaker 2: 01:10 Well, of course Lucy had studied Japan, so she knew something about it. But when she got to the Island of Okinawa, which is very South of mainland Japan, she discovered that there was a lot more going on beneath the surface with regard to the relationship between the Japanese and the American military. And that's something that though she had heard of, she was surprised to see the ranker that was there and daily street protests and, um, allegations of crimes against the American. So she was, uh, caught off guard by the hostility that she encountered.
Speaker 1: 01:50 She arrives in Okinawa and finds that. She's not exactly welcomed there. Talk a bit about what the problem is for Americans there.
Speaker 2: 01:58 Yeah, so it's a very interesting situation there. And I think not everyone in the public, you know, we don't always pay attention to what's going on in every other country, but you know, the Americans have been in Japan since world war two with military basis and I'm in a sub place like Okinawa, we take up the American military takes up quite a bit of land. And some of the people there really don't like us to be there. So they protest in the streets asking for the American military to leave Shinzo ABI. Uh, the prime minister of Japan had made a promise to reduce American military presence and that has not happened. And so every time an American service person commits a crime or just causes some kind of trouble, the protests ramped back up and they're spilling out into the streets, outside the base. So that's what my character encounters, uh, much to her surprise after there's been a crime allegation.
Speaker 1: 03:00 So you make it very clear that this is not an autobiography. You know, the heroin Lucy is not you, but you did spend some years in Japan. There are so many routes to this word, gaging under, from skin color to economic status, to political power. How did you explore all those in your book?
Speaker 2: 03:19 There are several layers or levels of being unwelcome in whatever circumstances. The characters in one of course is my protagonist. Lucy who finds herself perhaps unwelcomed by not everybody, but some people that she meets there. And then her love interest has an alienated relationship with his family. So he's like a guy Jean and his own family. And of course, unfortunately just like in most cultures, um, people find a reason to discriminate against someone. And in this case, sometimes the main lenders, um, looked at the OCA now on some, there's a little bit of discrimination that goes back and forth there from the traditional, um, like people from Tokyo, let's say two people from Okinawa. Now,
Speaker 1: 04:11 Aaron was in her early twenties and you describe her naivety very well, but you yourself are in your fifties currently. What was it like to get into the head and heart of a much younger woman? Was, was that a challenge?
Speaker 2: 04:24 Right? And thank you for pointing my age out. No, I'm kidding. That'd be proud of it. Yeah. I am proud of it because you learn a lot as you go along and then you have the better ability to express things as you, you know, get more mature. So it was, it was fun to go into Lucy's brain. It was also challenged and she's definitely not me. Um, but certainly I recall all the feelings of that age and how strongly you feel about things, even if you may be misguided, um, you certainly can feel passionately. You certainly can feel driven to things that might not always be good for you. So, um, I just wanted to show a person who had a decent heart, but maybe had some misguided perceptions. And so she was able to mature through her experiences in this other country.
Speaker 1: 05:17 Now you talk about all the support that you got along the way in writing this story. How would you describe the writing community in San Diego?
Speaker 2: 05:27 Oh, you know, I feel so lucky because I have a gang, a gaggle, a gang of really great friends who are really good writers and we don't all write the same thing. So we write different things, but we come together to help each other, give commentary, share our work. And so that's been absolutely invaluable. And, um, we have actually a very strong community here of writers. And I think, um, San Diego writers, inc, which is a nonprofit that supports writers, I teach there and it's been it's in Liberty station. That's also a really important San Diego resource for anyone who's trying to break into the writing community here, I would suggest contacting them for sure.
Speaker 1: 06:14 So Sarah, thanks so much for spending some time with us.
Speaker 2: 06:17 Alison, thank you. I appreciate this conversation a lot.
Speaker 1: 06:20 We've been speaking with San Diego author, Sarah sleeper, whose first novel is called [inaudible].