To Kill a Mockingbird fascinated me when I first read it. I was Scout's age, and had free access to the "stacks" in the basement -- the enormous overflow of books that my parents consumed with abandon. I think they were right, because if I couldn't follow any book, it simply bored me and I picked up something else. This made me a prolific reader of just about anything and guaranteed I was never bored.
I read that book again as an adult and realized Harper Lee's absolute genius as I saw how the story operated so beautifully on two levels -- the child's and the adult's -- and the different things I saw and absorbed by reading it at both ages and with both perceptions.
Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series affected me similarly. The stories begin when Laura is 6 and follow her to young adulthood, as a young married woman and mother. The books grow up with her, increasing in complexity and reading level until one passes through youth to adulthood with Laura even as the country and the world pass through the stupendous changes of the second half of the 19th Century.
When my curiosity about how Japan managed what no other Asian country did, to leap from decaying feudalism to a first world power in an incredibly short period of time during the latter half of the 19th Century, became insatiable, I wanted to avoid the usual boring tropes. I mean, how often can a western person come to Japan, be astounded by the same ten things, misunderstand completely those and twenty more and pronounce with any accuracy on the nature of the quirky and wonderful country in which I live?
Not that they don't try. I am rereading a couple of commentaries from around 1900, written by westerners, of course, and have just finished all volumes of a modern mystery series. They do the same darned thing, no matter how objective they tried to be. Still, they are colored by their own cultural prejudices and inability to even try to see things from a Japanese perspective.
That's what I have tried to avoid in The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series. By seeing the world through the eyes of somewhat unusual Japanese children as they grow up as well as through the eyes of the adults around them, I hope to give a truly accurate picture of the culture that persists and has persisted from time immemorial to this day. I learn as I go. I can't help but have cultural preconceptions but I try very hard to avoid them. By interweaving folklore to produce a cross between magical realism and historical fantasy, I'm aiming high. By using the techniques of Harper Lee and Laura Ingalls Wilder, I hope to provide something accurate and true that will lead to a greater understanding of Japan and its culture among my readers, while sharing with them the reasons I so love this ever-intriguing country.
A friend of mine just visited the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home in Mansfield, Missouri, USA. Come for a visit. The late 19th Century saw huge changes around the world that continued well into the 20th. Laura Ingalls Wilder lived through them and gave them all to us through her recounting of the personal history of an ordinary pioneer family. I owe her a lot. Come see.
And a farming community, old and new, in Japan!