The Divining Wand

Discovering authors beyond their pages…

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga’s Love in Translation

November 23, 2009 By: larramiefg Category: Book Presentations, Books

Love in Translation, Wendy Nelson Tokunaga’s second novel available in bookstores tomorrow, November 24, 2009, is simply that — her love story to Japan and all things Japanese. Of course if you read last Wednesday’s post, Love in Translation: Backstory and Song, you already know the how and why the author has a passion for all things Japanese and that she freely admits her writing naturally focuses on the country and its culture. However, though Wendy imbues the novel with personal insight, information, and a few shared experiences with her main character, this story is not autobiographical.

Instead it’s a book praised by fellow authors and reviewers as:

“A delightful novel about love, identity, and what it means to be adrift in a strange land. This story of a search has an Alice in Wonderland vibe; when Celeste climbs down the rabbit hole, one can’t help but follow along.– Michelle Richmond, NY Times Best-Selling Author of The Year of Fog

“An amusing story of one woman’s quest for her father and the improbable path of love.”
–Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Wednesday Sisters

“Tokunaga… describe[s] Japanese culture in absorbing detail.”–Publishers Weekly

“A delightful plot with wonderful characterizations.”–Affair de Coeur Magazine

Here’s the synopsis:

Stuck. That’s how 33-year-old aspiring singer Celeste Duncan feels, with her deadbeat boyfriend and static career. But then Celeste receives a puzzling phone call and a box full of mysterious family heirlooms, which just might be the first real clue to the identity of the father she never knew. Impulsively, Celeste flies to Japan to search for a long-lost relative who could be able to explain. She stumbles head first into a weird, wonderful world where nothing is quite as it seems—a land with an inexplicable fascination with foreigners, karaoke boxes, and unbearably perky TV stars. With little knowledge of Japanese, Celeste finds a friend in her English-speaking homestay brother, Takuya, and comes to depend on him for all variety of translation, travel and investigatory needs. As they cross the country following a trail after Celeste’s family, she discovers she’s developing “more-than-sisterly” feelings for him. But with a nosy homestay mom scheming to reunite Takuya with his old girlfriend, and her search growing dimmer, Celeste begins to wonder whether she’s made a terrible mistake in coming to Japan. Can Celeste find her true self in this strange land, and discover that love can transcend culture?

There is also the Excerpt: Chapter One – A Proposal for a sneak peek.

It’s true that based on the praise, synopsis and the mere title of Chapter One a potential reader would assume this to be another “chick lit”/women’s fiction tale of a thirtysomething heroine searching for fulfillment and love. Yet in Love in Translation there is much more to be told.

For Celeste Duncan — orphaned at age ten by her mother’s death — becomes a foster child and must literally create her own identity from memories and photo albums. This is a believable character motivated to search for her roots in of all places, Japan. Yes she is a stranger in a strange land but it’s through Celeste’s eyes and experiences that the novel becomes a vivid travelogue, a fascinating account of traditional Japanese customs and culture, and ultimately the discovery that people are people no matter what their heritage. Oh, for those who desire some romance, there is that very kind, respectful and good-looking homestay brother!

As Publishers Weekly acknowledges, Wendy Tokunaga “describes Japanese culture in absorbing detail.” Why not then allow the author to take you to Tokyo and Japan’s countryside? Love in Translation will serve as your ticket/passport/travel guide and occasional translator with writing that is both rich, natural and sensory.

Yes, sensory, because music also plays a major part of the storyline. When reading the Advanced Reader Copy, I honestly believed that “The Wishing Star (Nozomi no Hoshi)” was a traditional Japanese song and that Wendy had used it as Celeste’s “theme/karaoke/contest performance song” since it was such a perfect fit for Celeste’s situation. Only a few weeks ago did I learn that its perfection came from the music being written by Manabu Tokunaga and the lyrics by the author and their friend Hiro Akashi. Now seriously how impressive AND inspired to write, sing/record a song for a novel and offer it as a free download oniTunes here or at Wendy’s website here? Also on that website link, you’ll find and can listen to an eighteen minute Love in Translation Audio Drama Trailer in which Celeste Duncan explains how she got to Japan.

Rather than listen, though, simply take the leap and accompany her. Love in Translation is a refreshing change — a true getaway — to enjoy…and you will!

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand will be giving away two copies of Love in Translation. To enter, please leave a comment on this post before the deadline of Saturday, November 28th at 11:59 p.m. EST. Due to the busy holiday week, this contest is being extended and the winners — based on a random drawing — will be announced here in the Monday, November 30th post.

Love in Translation: Backstory and Song

November 18, 2009 By: larramiefg Category: Books, Profiles

Next Monday, November 23rd Wendy Tokunaga’s second novel, Love in Translation, will be presented here and the following day it will be released to bookstores and online retailers. Although likely to be shelved with “chick lit” or women’s fiction, this book is filled with much more than categorizes either genre. Therefore, with the hope of providing fascinating and lovely glimpses of this coming attraction, The Divining Wand is delighted to welcome author Wendy Tokunaga as today’s guest blogger.


It’s not surprising that I am often asked about how my relationship with Japan and Japanese culture came to be. It seems peculiar since I don’t look Japanese, but have a Japanese last name. My spoken Japanese is half-way decent and I have a penchant for singing in Japanese. And the culture of Japan has had a major impact on my writing.

My debut novel, MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT, is the story of a Japanese woman who escapes Japan by coming to California. My current novel, LOVE IN TRANSLATION, is about a Californian, Celeste Duncan who, after receiving a puzzling phone call and a box full of mysterious family heirlooms, is off to Japan to search for a long, lost relative who could hold the key to the identity of the father she never knew. At first Celeste is overwhelmed by Japan, where nothing is quite as it seems, but when she discovers and learns to sing a Japanese song called “The Wishing Star (Nozomi no Hoshi)” things begin to fall into place in ways she never expected. And it is in Japan that she actually discovers who she is.

And maybe that’s what happened to me in some ways, though my story is far different from Celeste’s. Unlike her I became a Japanophile starting in college when I stumbled upon a course called Japanese American Personality, which filled a general studies requirement. Taught by a dynamic Japanese-American professor, he fueled my interest in all things Japanese—the literature, the tea ceremony, the language, etc. It didn’t hurt that he was also good looking as I’d always been attracted to Asian men instead of big, blond football types. I also greatly admired the politeness, order and ritual of the Japanese language and culture, which is generally much more reserved and refined, as opposed to in-your-face. Being a Caucasian-American without a prominent heritage or religious identity I liked the idea of embracing a new culture for myself.

Friends were saying that I must have been Japanese in a past life because it was such a good fit. My other passion had been music and this was a match too when my first trip to Japan was as a winner in a songwriting contest sponsored by a Japanese record company.

Eventually I lived in Tokyo for a year. I taught English, did recorded narration work for language tapes, and sang with some rock bands. I even appeared on a wacky TV singing contest for foreigners, which is part of the inspiration for the television show Celeste appears on in the book. And when I returned home I continued to participate in Japanese karaoke contests in San Francisco’s Japantown and won a number of prizes. And it was in San Francisco that I met and married my husband Manabu Tokunaga, an expatriate who had moved to the United States from Osaka when he was eighteen.

So when I decided to take up fiction writing many years later, it seemed natural that the stories that poured forth were all about Japan and Japanese culture.

And it also seemed natural for my writing and musical pursuits to eventually come full circle.The fictional song from LOVE IN TRANSLATION has become a reality with the release of my version of “The Wishing Star (Nozomi no Hoshi),” with music written by Manabu and lyrics by myself and our friend Hiro Akashi. You can download the song for free on iTunes here or at my website here.

I think Celeste Duncan would approve of my rendition of the song that changed her life.

The Revealing of Wendy Tokunaga

November 11, 2009 By: larramiefg Category: Profiles

Wendy Tokunaga debuted two years ago with her highly praised novel, Midori By Moonlight. In this writing, the author told a tale based on her personal “experience in studying the Japanese language and culture; living, working and playing in Japan; and her cross-cultural marriage.” Yet her main theme and character focused on why some people feel the need to trade in their native culture for a new one.

In less than two weeks the writer’s second novel, Love in Translation, will be released with a similar theme but a very different setting. A full presentation of Love in Translation is scheduled to appear here on Monday, November 23rd, but until then let’s read beyond this website bio:

Born in San Francisco, Wendy has lived her whole life in the San Francisco Bay Area (except for a stint in Tokyo in the 1980s). She lives with her Osaka-born surfer-dude husband, Manabu Tokunaga, several virtual West Highland white terriers, and a champagne-sable Burmese cat dubbed Meow in a house that is a ten-minute walk from the Pacific Ocean.

Instead it’s time to reveal Wendy Tokunaga — a most creative, multi-talented individual:

Q: How would you describe your current life in 8 words?
A: Writing Marketing Writing Marketing Writing Marketing Writing Marketing

Q: What is your motto or maxim?A: Never, never give up.

Q: How would you describe perfect happiness?
A: A good bottle of wine and a great dinner out with my husband.

Q: What’s your greatest fear?
A: The power of fear itself.

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A: Depending on my mood either Shinjuku Station in Tokyo or Makawao, Maui.

Q: Which living person do you most admire?
A: Miep Gies

Q: If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A: Tap dancing

Q: What is your greatest achievement?
A: A toss-up between getting my novels published and returning to school to get my MFA in Writing.

Q: What’s your greatest flaw?
A: My lack of interest in housework.

Q: What’s your best quality?
A: My lack of interest in housework.

Q: What do you regret most?
A: Je ne regrette rien!

Q: If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A: A contented cat.

Q: Who is your favorite fictional hero?
A: Winnie-the-Pooh (A. A. Milne version)

Q: Who is your favorite fictional villain?
Q: Duchess the Cat in “Babe”

Q: If you could meet any athlete, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A: Hideki Matsui – Sushi o tabe ni ikimasen ka? (Shall we go eat some sushi?)

Q: What is your biggest pet peeve?
A: People writing “loose” when they mean “lose.”

Q: What’s your fantasy profession?
A: Real estate agent with my own show on HGTV.

Q: What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A: Sincerity, a sense of humor, and good time management skills.

Q: If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A: Sushi!

Q: Who are some of your favorite musicians?
A: Bill Charlap (jazz pianist), Kelly Clarkson, Booty Luv, Allison Iraheta, Manabu Tokunaga.

Q: What are some of your favorite novels you’ve read recently?
A: Oh! A Mystery of Mono no Aware by Todd Shimoda; No One You Know by Michelle Richmond; American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld; How to Be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward.

Charmingly, complex, get to know Wendy Tokunaga even better by following her on Twitter or become a friend on Facebook.