Spinning Tropics

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  • Edition: Original
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-12-01
  • Publisher: Vintage
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Meet Hiro. She's tall, lanky and awkward-a twenty-something Japanese woman who has decamped to Vietnam from Tokyo to work as a language teacher. Meet Dung. She's shy, beautiful, and tough-a young Vietnamese woman studying Japanese, determined to create a better life for herself and her family. When Dung becomes one of Hiro's students, they are instantly drawn to each other. For both of them, it is their first time in love with another woman. But when Konno, an older Japanese businessman, befriends Hiro, Dung begins to grow unbearably jealous. What unfolds is a love triangle with very complicated, ultimately devastating, results. Set against the backdrop of a Vietnam on the economic rise, debut novelist Aska Mochizuki vividly brings to life the buzz of motorcycles and the tastes of Vietnamese coffee and spicy papaya salads; the confines of the Vietnamese family; the lingering effects of long wars; the rich who ride the economic wave and the poor who are left behind.Spinning Tropicsis a lush and evocative story of an intoxicating love affair.

Author Biography

Aska Mochizuki was born in Tokyo in 1973. In 1992, after graduating from high school, she found employment at a computer company. But she left the corporate world in 1994 to travel around Australia by bus, taking on a series of part-time jobs (as a shark fisherman's helper and a cleaning woman at a backpacker's hostel, to name a few.) She returned home and attended university, graduating in 2002 with a teaching certificate. She embarked immediately to Vietnam, to teach Japanese, and returned home to Tokyo in 2004, where she began to write. Spinning Tropics was the 2007 winner of the Knopf Kodansha Prize.


Chapter One

the overripe custard apple slides from my grasp, slithering out of my hand like an eel making its escape.

"Uh-oh," Hai chuckles, looking down at the piece of fruit on the pavement. Its creamy white flesh is now blackened with dirt and sand. A tangy sweet scent hits my nostrils as I lick my fingers in disappointment.

This little café that Hai runs is on the ground floor of a fifteen-year-old reinforced-concrete apartment building. The café consists of nothing more than a few cheap resin tables and chairs set out at the edge of the street. It's a nice place to relax because it's off the main thoroughfare, a short distance down a quiet side street that gets only occasional traffic. The apartments in the building above have no balconies but large windows. The tenants leave their windows wide open all the time, confident that the iron bars fitted over them will protect them from intruders.

In the morning, along the same side of the street, a variety of food carts offering noodles, rice dishes, and sandwiches set up shop for locals to come fill their empty stomachs. Since so many people make it their custom to buy breakfast from street vendors, this is the time of day when the place most bustles with life. Once the carts have served up their food, they pack up and leave, not to be seen again until the following morning.

Hai's café is the only place that stays open all day long and into the evening. Since it's also a general grocery store, and my apartment is right across the street, I'm a regular. But I've learned to examine things carefully before I buy them. Among the products available in the cluttered, poorly lit storefront are seasonings and canned goods that are a year or two past their expiration dates—and sometimes even more. A pastry I bought once turned out to have a small colony of mold growing on it.

I live across the street in an older building that's supposed to be for Vietnamese citizens only. As a general rule, foreigners in Vietnam can't live anywhere they please; they're required to find housing specifically licensed for non-native occupants. But properties with such licenses charge much higher rents, which is why I live where I do.

My landlord is a quiet middle-aged man who lives with his family on the second floor. On the first floor there's a store that sells baby clothes; the only way for residents to enter the building is through this store. It's never very busy, except during special sales, and I sometimes see the young female salesclerks taking naps in the store's dimly lit interior. They stretch out on the sofa intended for customers or spread reed mats on the floor without the slightest qualm, right in the middle of their shifts.

I often get home after the store closes, so it's dark when I walk through it to my apartment. I could easily steal something if I wanted, but needless to say, I don't. I have no use for baby clothes.

When I come up to the second-floor landing, I peek into the landlord's living room, which is always left wide open. I often used to see his ghostly mother and father standing quietly inside as I passed by. Just once, they beckoned me in and asked me to join them for a cup of tea. Their movements were like those in a slow-motion film. Time seemed to pass even more slowly for them, in their little realm, than for the rest of Vietnam.

The old woman died not too long ago, and the funeral was held in the store downstairs. As is customary, I went to offer up a stick of incense. The man with whom she had shared her life was not present. My heart hurt to think how he must be feeling.

My own apartment is on the fifth floor. I like being on the top floor, where I have a nice view, but the one drawback is that the building has no elevator. The stairwell is dark even in the daytime, and very dusty. Right next to the stairs on the top landing is a messy pile of discarded furniture. W

Excerpted from Spinning Tropics by Aska Mochizuki
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