My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame
Published by: Pantheon (May 2nd)
Reviewed by: Alex
What to Expect: A beautifully crafted graphic novel of a straight, divorced, single father Yaichi, who is confronted by the life and loss of his twin brother, Ryoji, after Ryoji’s mourning widower Mike stays with them at Yaichi’s young daughter’s unexpected invitation.
Plot: From one of Japan’s most notable graphic novelists: a heartbreaking and redemptive tale of mourning and acceptance that compares and contrasts the contemporary nature of gay tolerance in the East and the West.
Yaichi is a work-at-home suburban dad in contemporary Tokyo, married to wife Natsuki, father to young daughter Kana. Their lives are suddenly upended 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, revelatory look at and journey into the largely still-closeted Japanese gay culture: how it’s been affected by the West, and how the next generation has the chance to change the preconceptions of and prejudices against it.
Review: Take one affable, hulking Canadian named Mike who has never met his dead husband’s family. Have him show up unannounced on the doorstep of the anxious, careful man who hasn’t seen his twin brother for twelve years. Introduce him to the vivacious tween who instantly invites him to stay in their house since he’s family and that’s what families do. Make all of this happen in a small town in Japan where homosexuality is never spoken of.
Yaichi’s hospitality is duty-bound but he doesn’t know how to welcome Mike with an open heart. Mike is kind, generous, sweet, and deeply in love with Ryoji, who he is mourning. He’s also huge. Between the two, he’s taking up more physical and emotional space than Yaichi is comfortable with. He’s persistently uncomfortable with the situation and responds by downplaying the importance of crucial events during Ryoji’s life.
As much as Yaichi would like to quietly get this visit over with, Kana wants to loudly enjoy every moment. She’s infatuated with Mike and doesn’t consider for a moment that’s he’s any less family than the cousins who stayed recently. She thinks it is exciting that he’s Canadian and even more exciting that he was married to her uncle. She wants to hang out with Mike from the first moment she wakes up. She wants to introduce him to all of her friends. In other words, he’s the best!
This is very much Yaichi’s story. It is written by a gay author who has created the world—and the culture shift—he’d like to see. Yaichi struggles with those things that straight family members and allies wrap their head around. So much so that this book could have been titled: What To Expect When You’re Becoming An Ally.
The questions that come up are not new. But the perspective is. It’s new for Yaichi who, as an adult, is expected to “know things” and it’s new for Kana who has the freedom to openly question Mike and others in a way that Yaichi cannot.
What you may not like: I’ve called this YA but the language and content could be read by someone much younger. Kana is referred to as a tween but she strikes me as a fourth grader (9 years old). On the one hand, the situations and language are geared toward her. Someone that age could read this and comprehend it. But like the story itself, having that interaction between a younger (tween) generation and older (a parental type) is where the magic happens. I love the idea of a parent and child sharing this book and talking about family, identity, death, friendship, culture, and meaningful childhood places.
If you do this, perhaps refrain doing a joint search for the rest of his oeuvre. He’s mostly known for erotic work of kinky grizzly bears (of the human male variety) as well as hentai, yaoi, and shounen ai.
What you will love: My Brother’s Husband is a fresh, sweet, and hopeful read. It’s easily accessible. The artwork is amazing. Mike and Kana are adorable together, especially when they inadvertently push Yaichi’s buttons. I doubt the Yaichi’s of the world would pick this book up and read it on their own. Perhaps the Kana’s of the world will make it happen anyway.
Alex claims to read more than any normal, healthy adult should though the rest of the Binge on Books team would beg to differ. You can read all of his reviews here.
Connect with Alex on Twitter: @Alex_deMorra