My Brother’s Husband, by Gengoroh Tagame (Vol. 1)
Publisher: Pantheon (Penguin Random House)
Release Date: May 2, 2017
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Yaichi is a work-at-home suburban dad in contemporary Tokyo; formerly married to Natsuki, father to their young daughter, Kana. Their lives suddenly change with the arrival at their doorstep of a hulking, affable Canadian named Mike Flanagan, who declares himself the widower of Yaichi’s estranged gay twin, Ryoji. Mike is on a quest to explore Ryoji’s past, and the family reluctantly but dutifully takes him in. What follows is an unprecedented and heartbreaking look at the state of a largely still-closeted Japanese gay culture: how it’s been affected by the West, and how the next generation can change the preconceptions about it and prejudices against it.
(Please note: This book is a traditional work of manga, and reads back to front and right to left.)
Graphic Novel (Manga)
Mild Homophobia (Cultural)
There are few things on earth that bring me as much pleasure as a fantastic, emotional story combined with gorgeous artwork. My Brother’s Husband is a manga (Japanese graphic novel) that explores how Japanese culture views homosexuality. In Japan, being gay is still seen as something that shouldn’t be discussed–though these preconceptions, of course, are being constantly challenged by Western views– and Tagame uses the contrast of a close-minded Japanese father and the outgoing (and very out) Canadian husband of his late brother to show the evolution of acceptance.
Everything about this manga is exemplary. The characters, the emotion, the representation, and the art all combine to make this an Experience with a capital ‘E’: you feel and you relate, and I promise you’ll find yourself utterly absorbed as you turn each page.
In some ways, each character is allegorical:
Yaichi, the stay-at-home single father, represents the old Japan. He’s deeply traditional, from his tatami-mat guest room to his reluctance to display physical signs of emotion.
Kana, Yaichi’s young daughter, is new Japan. She’s curious and bright, always questioning why. She respects the traditions her father has taught her, but is willing and ready to accept outside perspective. She loves openly and freely.
Mike is a happy, fat Canadian who comes to Japan to explore the heritage of his late husband, Ryoji (Yaichi’s brother). This is the West personified: loud, emotional, an completely unashamed of his orientation. He hugs and laughs and carefully shatters the threads of prejudice that tie Yaichi to his old ways.
The story that Tagame tells is one that I think anyone can relate to, no matter what country or culture you were raised in. It’s a story about understanding and acceptance, and about learning to open your heart and your mind to new experiences. It’s also a fascinating look into Japanese culture, one that anime and pop culture don’t really offer.
Artwork… well, as you can see, it’s gorgeous. There were some pages that really stole my breath away, and I think manga allows a reader to experience the characters’ emotions better than plain text, sometimes!
Overall, this is a highly, highly recommended novel. I loved it and couldn’t put it down, and I’m eagerly awaiting Volume 2 (which will conclude the story).
GENGOROH TAGAME was born in 1964 and lives in Tokyo. After graduating from Tama University of Art, Tagame worked as an art director while writing manga and prose fiction, contributing illustrations for various magazines. In 1994 he cofounded the epochal G-Men Magazine and by 1996 he was working full-time as an openly gay artist. He is the author of dozens of graphic novels and stories which have been translated into English, French, Italian, and Korean. His artwork has been exhibited in galleries across Europe and America. My Brother’s Husband marks his first all-ages title, and earned him the Japan Media Arts Award for Outstanding Work of Manga from the Agency of Cultural Affairs.
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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.