If You Follow Me: A Novel

by Lisa Kirchner

Fresh out of college, Marina follows her girlfriend to rural Shika, Japan, to teach English for a year. But challenges arise as she navigates a host of cultural differences and soon finds that it is difficult to discard anything there. Literally.

The more she botches traditional garbage-disposal rules, the more the gomi police return to her all manner of incorrectly disposed of trash, from rotten meat to feminine products. And garbage isnt the only thing haunting her; grief over her dead father followed her on this journey, too. It is her constant shadow.

Early on, Marina takes a tour of the local nuclear power plants Arisu in Shikaland museum-themed after Alice in Wonderland, white rabbit and all. A pamphlet reads, Arisu fell down a hole. Into a new world she could not understand. Rules were so confusing. To break them was kind of dangerous. But in risky business (as her sensei calls it) there is also growth. Marina falls through many holespits of grief, of loss, of communication breakdown, confusion, and self-doubt. But like Alice, she makes her way with grace, honesty, and humor, until gradually, these holes start to fill.

Along the way, Marina encounters a host of delightfully quirky characters: the shy, cat-killing neighbor boy, Haruki; Keiko, the exhausted mother of an autistic child; and student sumo star Nakajima, a wiseass with an Afro-perm and too much self-tanner. The book begins to sing as Marina’s relationships deepen. Generous and poignant, Watrous’ writing is sure to fill a few holes of its own.

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