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Book Review: Yakuza Moon by Shoko Tendo

Yakuza Moon is a memoir of a Japanese yakuza’s screwed-up daughter, who descends into a dark, hellish life of sex, drugs and violence, before cleaning up her act to end up a B-grade writer.

This memoir is very popular in these parts of the world, and in a fashion typical of all things popular today, contains an overdose of sex, violence, and a despairing lack of either eloquence or introspection.

It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book I hated – because it’s been awhile since I’ve read anything that claims to be “contemporary literature” – and this experienced has served as a solemn reminder that “literature” can indeed be crap.

Contrary to what you’d expect of Yakuza Moon, with all its promise of a glimpse of the yakuza underworld, Shoko Tendo’s memoir is nothing but a childish tale of her teenage angst and the trouble that ensues because of it. It contains no account of yakuzas or their operations, to the extent that the yakuza element could be eliminated entirely from the book and its contents wouldn’t be affected in the slightest. Rather, the memoir comprises snippet after snippet of her encounters with strange men and the many ways they manage to exploit her. In fact, she almost makes it a point to write only about a select number of gruesome experiences, such that the book might as well be entitled “Anecdotes from an Emo-Girl’s Troubled Life, from Her Teenage Years to Her Late Twenties”. Such selective recounting makes it appear as if she is desperately trying to bulldoze her way into literary success by making unashamed use of the shock factor and nothing else.

On top of it, the book is terribly written, displaying the sophistication of a 12 year old girl. Enough, already, of sentences that begin with “I was” or “I went” or “I said” or “I felt”; this is a case of the first-person narrative taken to the extreme, by an author (or translator) with no knowledge of alternative sentence structures.

Although she ends up a “reformed” human being, she gives no clue as to what prompted her to change the ways or the process of change – this is a story of a rebellious teenager who finally comes to terms with the values her society has instilled her with, in a maturing process that involves neither thought nor reflection. Her constant cries of “I had not learned my lesson yet”, without specifying the lesson exactly, or the reason for needing to learn “lessons”, is reminiscent of bad state propaganda in its attempt to mimic the worst parts of Confucianism. Reading the memoir, I imagined how a conservative Asian government could so very easily use her as the poster-girl for good citizen behaviour – “I was a bad, bad person who didn’t act according to traditional values, but I’ve learned my lesson and reformed my ways. You can change, too. Dial 1800-COUNSELLING for help”  – and that sums up the entire book.

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