Jordan Okumura / Writer & Author

"I build a body back from these fractured myths and severed edges."

— Jordan Okumura

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How can a family be a demolition of the self and a home one lives in? How does a fractured body heal a trauma through connection? Deeply embedded in the novel Gaijin, by Jordan Okumura, is an unsettling nostalgia for family, haunted by whispers and by abandoning, by illness and isolation, by silence and trauma. The novel attempts to simultaneously track a personal rupture and a family, through the painful and awkward reclamation of the self after sexual violence and the evocation of a patriarch who is half dreamed, half real. The narrative bravely plows forward in reconciling two disparate sources of grief in order to heal them, trying to articulate the inarticulatable in a style that straddles genres-part memoir, part mythology, and part eulogy to a grandfather.

Desperate to connect, the narrator of Gaijin feels as distanced from her Japanese heritage as she does from the love of her family. But she can dream, reach for. The narrator feels the momentum of histories across her familial generations, from grandfather to granddaughter and even, at times, from father to daughter; how we are tied to each other's stories, how they shape the story we think we are creating ourselves. Through exquisitely meticulous description, Okumura describes a longing mythical in proportions, but grounded in the body that receives and aches to connect, to belong. The narrator experiences, for example, the Japanese characters of her grandparents not as mere code for a language she can not access, but as a 3-dimensional conjuring of fantastical creatures, stilled and waiting to awaken from the page and into her world, much like the narrator, who tries to provoke her own dreamed reality into being.

The very name of the novel Gaijin, means foreigner in Japanese. And it connotes the concepts of insider and outsider, pointing to the narrator's lack of belonging. She feels an outsider to her own culture and her family, and at times, to her own self. But it also points to her need to protect herself from who she lets in, and to the sexual violence she is constantly framing and reframing in attempts to yield power over trauma. She has become foreign to herself and she is determined to rewrite over the wounds, determined to reclaim the self.

Laced throughout the narrative of Gaijin is mention of Momotaro, or The Peach Boy, the protagonist of a heroic Japanese fairytale who the narrator longs to be like. The peach boy is a gift delivered to his parents whose wishes for a son are answered when he is born from a peach. The boy isn't quite mortal, isn't quite real. But still, in juxtaposition to the narrator, the peach boy achieves belonging and respect and the undying love of his parents without question. His strength to overcome enemies is superhuman. Maybe the narrator can be as heroic as the peach boy. Maybe she can be as loved.

Exquisite and excruciating, Gaijin, a first novel for Okumura, is unique in its accomplishment of employing strongly metaphoric language, with a narrative deeply rooted in the concrete realities of a daughter, a granddaughter, a woman, a survivor. It is a blunt and alarmingly honest accounting of scars and blows to the spirit, with words piling up against voicelessness, and a persistent refusal to descend into despair. So powerful is the poetry and aching of Gaijin, it crushes the breath out of you as you read, cracks your chest wide open. Though the sum of Okumura's exquisite metaphors is often grim, tragic, there is always a glimmer in the yearning.



“Reading Jordan Okumura’s poetic prose will change the way you breathe and the way you move. Her prose reaches inside you, caresses the very core of who you are, and transforms what you thought you knew about love, hope, and desire in unnerving ways. Her writing does not simply remind me of the writing of Carole Maso, Helene Cixous, and Marguerite Duras; her writing extends this tradition of intimate, passionate writing that does not fear the pain of seeing into truth. Gaijin will awaken you to new ways for seeing and feeling. Each time I have read Gaijin, I have come to know something new about myself, about my own heart. It is rare for a first novel to look in such a relentless and courageous way into familial relationships and memories as does Gaijin.”

– Doug Rice, author of Here Lies Memory, Between Appear and Disappear, and Dream Memoirs of a Fabulist

"And what is the measure of self inside grief?  Jordan Okumura's novel Gaijin is a body song.  By weaving stories of loss and myth, Okumura brings an identity to life, half real, half imagined. I was mesmerized from start to finish."

– Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Small Backs of Children and The Chronology of Water

"Gaijin makes possible the impossible language of trauma"

- Molly Gaudry, Author of We Take Me Apart

“Labile, alluvial, fricative, abrasive, Gaijin cuts a channel through stone which takes the shape of its own persistence. I want to say your name with a rock beneath my tongue. It stages and restages memory to pinpoint the exact site where the skin broke and the shard sank in, then gestures towards a moment-after wherein this wound, inverted, might become both shield and sword. A nervy, unnerving book.”

–Joyelle McSweeney, author of The Necropastoral: Poetry, Media, Occults

“The narrator of Jordan Okumura’s haunting and evocative Gaijin says, “I want to live the life of tongues.” But what if that tongue has been inscribed with the language of others? In lyric prose born of breath and body, Okumura wrestles with questions like: How to find one’s self when “memories don’t know how to stay past?” How to “reconcile the possibility of a girl and men” when those men have stolen all possibility from the girl?  How to escape the legacy of a father when that father “is me. Wrapped in the stone of me?” In doing so, she gives us a beautifully fractured story of a journey to uncover the history of a woman hidden within the history of a family. I dare you not to fall under Okumura’s spell.”

– Peter Grandbois, author of The Gravedigger and Nahoonkara

Jordan Okumura

Jordan Okumura is a writer and editor. Her work has been published in Gargoyle, DIRTY:DIRTY (Jaded Ibis Press), Black Rabbit, and First Stop Fiction. Jordan lives and works in Sacramento, California where she is an editor for trade news publications in the agricultural industry and is a regular contributor at Enclave/Entropy. Gaijin is her first book.

P: 916-968-4099
P: 916-968-4099

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