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The Japan Times reviews 'The Fourth String: A Memoir of Sensei and Me'

Michael Palmer - Tuesday, June 25, 2019

"The Fourth String reconfigures the typical Japan fish-out-of-water memoir into a meditation on music and mastery, relationships, culture and narrative."

Thanks to Kris Kosaka at The Japan Times for her thoughtful and in-depth review of Janet Pocorobba's memoir, The Fourth String: A Memoir of Sensei and Me.

"The book’s descriptions of learning, however, transcend musical study into a study of life. As Pocorobba writes, “The music itself was vexing, with the ma, and the hard-to-find notes, and the discomfort of merely holding the instrument in my lap. But it stirred my desire, which stirred my ambition. And longing. I recognized the reverberant, sad, solitary sounds immediately as the same ones that followed me through the streets of Odawara.”

Ma, or the space in between, becomes an important idea in the book, and the concept is reflected in Pocorobba’s writing style. The narrative structure follows a meandering pattern with much left unsaid, and without a straightforward chronological order. It contains many moments of pause and reflectiveness. Pocorobba’s style also sets the memoir apart, as her word choice and turn of phrase is unexpectedly vivid, juxtaposing dissimilar images or infusing her descriptions with a sly humor, as when she describes Sensei’s traditional tabisocks, worn with kimono, after a performance: “By the end of the day her tabi looked ecstatically shabby.”

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