Harmless Like You
By Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
Published by Sceptre
Available in hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming
On the surface, Harmless Like You, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan's debut novel is a coming of age story as a girl becomes a woman in the city as she struggles to become an authentic artist but this novel is more than that. This is a book about the connections we make, break and discover in the world. This is a book about isolation, abandonment and desertion. This is a book about creativity and parenthood. This is a book about how behaviours are passed down to each generation.
Told through two narratives, Yuki's story begins in 1960s when her parents head back to Japan, leaving her to battle against Japanese tradition and the seductive nature of American culture as she tries to become an artist and find her 'art'. She finds herself moving from destructive relationship to another, first with her friend from school and then into the arms of her first boyfriend who hits her and belittles her art. While the second strand follows her adult son, Jay in 2016, as he battles to deal with his past and bond with his baby.
Harmless Like You is a great companion book to read with Olivia Laing's The Lonely City. Both books like at isolation people face and the way people search for a belonging. Both Yuki and Jay live in New York and Berlin, full of people, but are unable to find that connection to the people they know or even strangers. This consuming isolation pushes both Yuki and Jay to the fringes of society - they are surrounded by people who do feel the same and who also do not look the same. Both are outsiders, and the only way to deal with this abandonment is to desert their current life. Yuki walks away from the house in the country, her husband and her son. While, under the impression Jay is looking for his mother, he leaves behind his business, his wife and baby.
Yuki is consumed by her art and creativity, and is constantly looking for authenticity. While Jay wants to be an authentic parent and thinks he must be 'perfect' before he can bond with his baby. The conflict between parenthood, loneliness and creativity causes both of these characters to reject society's expectations.
Harmless Like You looks at the way people inherit identity from their parents, from culture, from their surroundings. Both characters flinch away from the harm they are causing on others (Yuki leaves behind her husband is loves her more than she loves him) while Jay escapes from the harm being caused by others on him - his father, his mother, the baby interrupting his life. Both characters have lost their sense of 'home' and are detached from their cultural heritage
This is a book which will linger in your mind long after finishing it. The characters are not likeable but the problems the face are relatable. This is a great book! You can buy Harmless Like You from your favourite bookshop.
I was sent a copy via Bookbridgr.