Book Review · Books

What I’m Reading: In Clothes Called Fat by Moyoco Anno

 

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In the last few months, I’ve resumed my interest in Japanese and Korean literature and manga (comics). I’m willing to admit, although embarrassingly, that much of my curiosity in the past was in my teenage interest in anime and pop culture and in the Hallyu Wave from South Korea, K-pop, Korean films and television. I still like those things, but as I’ve travelled and have become more exposed to different cultures and ideas, I’ve thought it important, before consuming any medium from those whose backgrounds are unfamiliar to me, to try and understand the cultural influences that inspire a person’s work. I’ve often found that, outside of film, food, music, and pop culture, most Americans, whether purposefully or not, know little to none about foreign cultures outside of the frivolous or the cartoonish. And when consuming art, literature, music or any sort of medium produced in other countries, many Americans don’t try to look beyond just being entertained, to look deeply within the socio-political concepts of reality that are often missed or ignored when pursuing alternative forms or creative expression. It’s quite common for Americans to be thoroughly ignorant of other cultures and ethnicities, but the thing that has been consistent over centuries has been the willful ignorance of Asian cultures in particular.

To remain separate from the fore, I’m trying to learn more about socio-political issues within Asian culture, from to politics to mental health. I admit that I still understand very little, but from what I’ve been able to grasp, I feel that the knowledge that I’ve obtained has helped me to look at Asian cultures with a much less regressive or alien view than I would have compared to when I was younger, and it’s definitely easy for me to separate what is comfortably normalized here in America to the reality that exists in other countries. I continue to want to learn. I’ve watched a lot of documentaries, few good, but with themes in particular focusing on the pressures of keeping up with social norms in Asian society. Joblessness, mental illness, loneliness, alcoholism, domestic violence, eating disorders, bullying and social acceptance are some issues that affect many people in Asia, the youth in particular.

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So, when I read In Clothes Called Fat by Moyoco Anno, I was already familiar with some of the themes of her work, but in reading and watching the few interviews that she has done, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that she was a female centric writer. I’m always happy to find great female writers! Before being published as a book in 2015, ICCF was serialized in a women’s-focued magazine called Shuukan Josei  back in 1997 and was written and illustrated by Anno. Anno is best known in Japan for her female-centered comics in the shojo (comics focused on and aimed towards women with themes such as relationships and self-image) and josei (female teen and young adult comics and anime) manga genres.

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The book centers around Noko Hanazawa. Noko has it tough: a shit job where her boss hates her, co-workers who bully her, a boyfriend who cheats on her. Even throughout all of her struggles, she remains, publically anyway, optimistic, but in private, she deals with the stress by binge eating. At some point, Noko begins to convince herself that that all of the problems will go away if she loses weight. Unfortunately, Noko’s obsession with her weight and weight loss leads her down a road of self-destructive behavior that to Noko seems worth it, in the end she loses more than just a few inches off of her waist line.Image result for in clothes called fat

There isn’t much examination that needs to be done with ICCF, it’s pretty straight forward. Anno’s ICCF explores the psychological tug-of-war in the world of eating disorders in Japanese women in relation to self-image and peer pressure, ideas that are typically seen as only being a “Western” or “first world” problem that young girls and women in the U.S. (and the U.K.) face. What I also like about ICCF is that the lives of the women in the comic are complex, not magical or hyper-realized or cartoonish.

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Though some aspects of the plot and writing are idealized and improbable, the book keeps its feet deeply grounded in reality, and Anno’s reality is harsh and painful but her characters seem to transform in some way and have some sort of deep personal growth even if their ending is ambiguous. A lot of readers complained that the characters are unlikeable, but I disagree. I think that what makes them likable is the fact that each is imperfect. In fact, the characters are downright scumbags, but Anno does not try to amend their behaviour through some sort of moral epiphany or deep self-realizations that ultimately lead towards a flat happy ending. Because, that’s not how life is. It’s a world that most people don’t want to see, I get that, but it exists. It’s a world where people get fucked over, get hurt, are humiliated, but ultimately figure out how to move on and are, maybe, stronger in the future because of it but Anno doesn’t let the reader happily rest on that idea with this book. I love writers who are unafraid to depict the world as it is; a world where reality is vague, disturbing, and frustratingly complex.

Since this is the only book I’ve read by Anno, I won’t give a full interpretation of her work as a whole, but from what I’ve read, I’m looking forward to reading the rest of her books.

© 2017-2018 • CoffeeCupcakesKafka

 

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City Life · Food · Gluten Free · Writings

Gluten-Free Bagels and The Saddest Kosher Egg Salad in New York: Murray’s Bagels (Chelsea)

I spent New Year’s Eve at a nice hotel in Chelsea. The next day, after check-out, I decided to stay in the city and have brunch at Murray’s Bagels. I was particularly excited because one of my friends who isn’t gluten intolerant but is on a gluten-free diet, told me that Murray’s did indeed sell gluten-free bagels. When I tell you that I was hyped! I felt like a kid the night before Christmas! The thing that sucks about being gluten intolerant is  living in a city filled with delicious carbs. In NYC, the quintessential breakfast foods are bagels, coffee, and doughnuts, and if it’s, say seven AM and you’re pressed for time before school or work and need a quick breakfast, nine times out of ten if it’s not coffee and a doughnut, you’re probably going to opt for a bacon, egg, and cheese bagel, a toasted bagel with cream cheese, or toasted bagel with (A LOT of) butter. I haven’t had any of these things in years. But, for a while I did attempt to make my own gluten-free New York-style bagels in the past. The result was always a flat, dense bagel with a dry, gritty after taste that had none of the pizzazz of a NYC bagel, and pretty much fell apart after one week in the freezer.

Heartbreaking stuff.

I’m in awe at how other gluten-free bloggers have managed to have success with their bagel recipes, but as for me, I guess I just don’t have the magic touch. So, this means I’ve had to pretty much shell out the big bucks for Udi’s brand gluten-free bagels and bread which are pretty decent taste-wise. Still, the great thing about NYC is that there are a lot of gluten-free friendly eateries to choose from, so I’ve never felt deprived for culinary experiences. But what continues to elude me is a good gluten-free bagel! So when I went to Murray’s on Monday, I felt like the wait was finally over.

The place was  bustling. I stood on line for about fifteen minutes. Murray’s has a great staff, efficient, polite, attentive. The chain is a pretty typical Jewish eatery in terms of food; smoked fish, cream cheese, sour pickles, chicken soup, the lot. It’s also pretty  affordable. Bagels are $1.35 each and a typical sandwich usually costs under five dollars, well, before taxes. Their menu is so ample that it’s hard to choose. While on line, I saw a girl seated a few feet from me eating what looked to be a toasted everything with lox and cream cheese. I hate cream cheese but that thing looked amazing.

By the time I reached the counter, I decided that I wanted a bagel with a side of egg salad. I don’t even fuck with egg salad like that but, man, under the display case, that damn egg salad looked like heaven. A guy at the counter with a thick African accent, says, “Can I help you?”

“Hi! Good morning! I would like a bagel with a side of egg salad. Do you guys sell gluten-free bagels?”

“Yeah. You want plain or everything.”

I peaked. Wow! I thought, I get options! “Everything,” I said excitedly. “And I’d like six please.” The other five bagels I was going to take home and toast.

He turns around and walks to the bread counter behind him. I’m looking at all of the breads and thick bagels the sized of tea plates, thinking about how I’m a few minutes away from some awesome thick, hearty sandwich. He opens one of the bread boxes, and I felt kind of special, as if I was going experience some great, rare delicacy that only came around about once a year. But folks, when I tell you that when the African dude reached into the bread box and pulled out a commercial bag of pre-made bagels (from a company called The Greater Knead). Well, I was pretty annoyed. These things were tiny; the width of a newborn baby’s palm. And he put two of these thick baby palm-sized pieces of bread into one paper bag, and then placed the pre-made bag of refrigerated bagels in another paper bag.

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He then proceeded to fill a tiny plastic cup with the saddest scoop of egg salad I’d ever seen. I felt like Oliver Twist getting one ladle of gruel.

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It was literally a shot of egg salad.

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And then I looked at the label on the cup: $3.51. All total: $11.61.

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I just laughed. Whatever. That’s New York for you, I guess.

And anyway, I just wanted to eat and then go home.

I already knew what to expect, because this is gluten-free bread we’re talking about here, and the thing about gluten-free bagels is that as they are, they’re rubbery, tough, and hard to chew. I’d equate them to the consistency of a dog toy, really. Still, let me tell you, it was one of the saddest bagels I’d ever eaten in my life. Not so much for taste; it tasted really good, so much so that in the end, I regretted not getting the bagel toasted. Still, I could forgive all of that, if not for the atrocious egg salad which was too damn expensive to be so bland. I was more offended by that than the bagel! I’ve lived in NYC my whole life and never have I ever tasted a Kosher egg salad as sad as this was. It was offensive, honestly, truly, to Jews everywhere. I mean, how the hell do you muck up Kosher egg salad? Even worse, how do you forget to put SALT in an KOSHER egg salad? A literal parody, like something I’d find joked about on an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm in a Mel Brook’s film.

And, of course, I ate it the damn thing.

Because…

I paid a lot of money for it, and I was hangry, and tired, and it was too cold to run around looking for another place to eat, and it was too crowded at Forager’s Table across the street.

When I got home, I toasted one of the bagels. So good. Not to plug the company, but knowing how difficult it is for people with gluten-related illnesses to find good food, especially bread, I’d recommend The Greater Knead. Plus, it has wholesale online, so I guess the upside is that I’ve now found another brand of gluten-free products that I might actually want to spend money on.

A nice establishment, but I would never eat at Murray’s Bagels again.

© 2017-2018 • CoffeeCupcakesKafka