A Room Where The Star-Spangled Banner Cannot Be Heard
Set against the political and social upheavals of the 1960s, A Room Where the Star-Spangled Banner Cannot Be Heard tells the story of Ben Isaac, a blond-haired, blue-eyed American youth living with his father at the American consulate in Yokohama. Chafing against his father's strict authority and the trappings of an America culture that has grown increasingly remote, Ben flees home to live with Ando, his Japanese friend. Refusing to speak English with Ben, Ando shows the young American the way to Shinjuku, the epicenter of Japan's countercultural movement and the closest Ben has ever felt to home.
From the vantage point of a privileged and alienated "outsider" (gaijin), Levy's narrative, which echoes events in his own life, beautifully captures a heady, eventful moment in Japanese history. It also richly renders the universal struggle to grasp the full contours of one's identity. Wandering the streets of Shinjuku, Ben can barely decipher the signs around him or make sense of the sounds reaching his ears. Eventually, the symbols and sensations take root, and he becomes one with Japanese language and culture. Through his explorations, Ben breaks free from English and the constraints of being a gaijin. Levy's coming-of-age novel is an eloquent elegy to a lost time.