The Good Lord Willing and the Creek Don't Rise: Pentimento Memories of Mom and Me
(can be viewed online by clicking on titles)
The Many Roads to Japan
(free online version for ESL/EFL teachers and students)
ISBN: 1-4116-7297-6; Publisher: Lulu Press
Trade Paperback; Published February 2006
Draft2Digital E-book version
Modeled roughly on Malcolm Lowry's Dark as the Grave Wherein My Friend is Laid, this novel is part homage to Lowry and Hermann Hesse, part mushroom retrospective, and part middle-aged love story. David Thompson (the protagonist in Looking for the Summer) is an expatriate American teaching at a Japanese university and suffering from hepatitis C. His wife, Kaori, is recovering from cancer surgery. Feeling a strong sense of their own mortality, confusion about the significance of what they have done with their lives, and a need to escape the constrictions of their life in Japan, the two set out on a journey to Europe to retrace a path from David's adventurous youth and locate a German benefactor from the past. What lies ahead--a trip through the Magic Theater, a sudden death, an encounter with Lowry's ghost, and a descent into the Capuchin Crypt in Rome--will change their lives irrevocably.
"Autumn Shadows in August is a journey in miles and of states of mind. The reader travels through Europe with an American expatriate who recapitulates his past in a transcendental and evocative fashion. Along this mind-expanding sojourn, we also travel over the Khyber Pass from Afghanistan and into India, where the protagonist's life is transformed. Autumn Shadows in August is an insightful and very enjoyable read. I'm glad I went along on this personal journey."--David Echt, author of Messenger from the Summer of Love
The year is 1983. The place is the Kobe-Osaka area. A 33-year-old American drifter and Vietnam War veteran has just arrived in Japan seeking one more adventure and an escape from his past. A promiscuous, rebellious, 23-year-old Japanese woman has just returned from a two-year homestay in a Canadian mission, where she was sent by her parents to cure her suicidal behavior. A snobbish, upper-class, 22-year-old Japanese woman who cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality is about to graduate from university and enter the frightening world of adulthood. Three people searching for a place to belong. Three people dancing on a psychological highwire. Three people about to become enmeshed in a relationship that will change each of their lives forever. Toraware is a special novel that takes a penetrating look at the obsessions, suspense, grief, misunderstandings, and joys of people from very different cultures and backgrounds who are brought together by fate to find the separate life paths they must follow.
"Crafted in excellent style and patiently honed....The Japanese characters are wholly convincing....The ambivalence and spiritual guilt of Yoshiko, one of the tragic heroines of Toraware, about an abortion she underwent years ago, is perfectly captured....[Norris has] captured the unassuagable melancholy at the deepest core of the Japanese soul [and] succeeded in convincing us of the reality of [his] vision."--Kansai Time Out
"A wonderful novel about that last love/lust journey some of us take before we segue into middle age, acceptance and stability. It is a dangerous journey, not for the weak of heart. Along the way are demons lying in ambush, and false trails which can lead to madness, suicide and even murder. Robert W. Norris has created characters we will grow to love, despite their many flaws, characters who, we hope and pray, will make it through, characters we will always remember. Be prepared to stay up nights as you follow their progress. A number one read!"--Paul Clayton, author of Calling Crow
ISBN: 1-4116-1130-6; Publisher: Lulu Press
Trade Paperback; Published January 2005
Originally published by Touka Shobo in 1996
Republished by Jacobyte Books in 2000
Draft2Digital E-book version
David Thompson is a former Vietnam War conscientious objector in Paris on a quest to find himself in the early days of 1977. When he befriends an Iranian and an Afghan and is invited to return with them to their countries, his quest slowly becomes a descent into his own private hell.
On the road from Europe to the East he encounters Kurdish bandits in the eastern mountains of Turkey, becomes involved with an underground group opposed to the Shah in Iran, escapes to Afghanistan, passes through Pakistan during the uprising against the Bhutto regime, and suffers extreme sickness on the streets of Delhi and Calcutta. Although continually searching for the happiness and identity he could not find in the U.S., he cannot easily shed his American past. Throughout the journey he is hounded by the demons of memory, particularly that of his father, a World War II hero who disowned David and died while David was still in prison. The journey itself becomes a physical manifestation of his struggle to achieve reconciliation with his own conscience.
This picaresque novel is interspersed with a multitude of characters whose philosophical, political, and religious opinions influence David greatly in his search. It is rich with the fascination of adventure in countries not easily accessible anymore to Westerners, vibrant with its diversity of characters, and graphic in its descriptions of poverty, death, and disease. Looking for the Summer is a remarkable adventure story of a man about to lose his youth and find his true self in ancient lands.
"A graceful autobiographical novel that breathes life into a perennial genre: the spiritual bildungsroman. The theme of a questing expatriate who renounces Western materialism in favor of an exotic pilgrimage to the East will be familiar to anyone who has fallen under the spell of W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge or Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums....
Although published prior to the events of 9/11, it is impossible to pick up Norris's novel without a heightened interest in its vividly depicted locales in a part of the world where our attentions are now so intensely focused. Several fascinating chapters are devoted to [the protagonist's] stay in Afghanistan. Written with a novelist's eye for characterization and a reporter's skill for observation, Looking for the Summer is the kind of small press gem that is often overlooked but is well worth seeking out. -- Bob Wake, CultureVulture.net
"In the hands of any
author, Looking for the Summer would probably be
a compelling read due to the inherent intrigue in the
story's setting. But Norris is a masterful writer and
storyteller, and he uses his craft to elevate this tale
above mere 'compelling' or 'interesting' to the realm of
uplifting and insightful. He deftly paints a portrait of
his locations using a visual poetry that is neither
self-conscious nor affected.... This is a fascinating
novel, told in spellbinding English. I can't recommend
it enough." -- Christine Hall, Alternative Approaches
ISBN: 1-4116-1128-4; Publisher: Lulu Press
Trade Paperback; Published October 2004
Originally published by Osaka Kyoiku Tosho in 1997
Republished in 2000 by Jacobyte Books
Click here to listen to the podcast of The Many Roads to Japan
Originally developed as a textbook for Japanese EFL university students, The Many Roads to Japan is now available in print and as a free online ESL reader that tells the story of the adventures of one foreigner who had to follow many twists and turns in his life journey before finding his niche in Japan. The exercises at the end of each chapter are designed both to provide a review of the most important information contained in the chapter and to give practice in skimming for main ideas and scanning for specific kinds of information. The discussion/essay questions are meant to involve the students personally by asking them to respond to events in the main character's life and relate them to their own experiences. Over 50 links to historical, literary, and artistic web sites. Short recordings by the author at the end of each chapter give learners listening practice and answers to the questions. Suitable for low intermediate level and above.
"Mr. Norris's description of the world of adventure as well as that of misery reminds me of Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March, Henderson the Rain King, or Herzog.... Norris's story of a symbolic life is a gift from his own experience, and it gives us something good, meaningful, and inspiring....The comprehension questions, exercises, and discussion/essay questions are quite useful in helping Japanese students to think in English and in encouraging them to express themselves in English as well. This is one of the ideal textbooks I have been looking for, and while using it I am happy to say that I can steer clear of the traditional grammar-translation method, which I find so time-consuming and ineffective." -- Professor Kazushige Sagawa, Aoyama Gakuin University
"Excellent! I was mesmerized by the visual descriptions of all the places seen by the narrator and the struggle he went through to find the meaning of his life, and what he really wanted to do with the rest of it. I think it's a great learning tool for any student, and it was certainly well written. I'm putting it in my keeper file. There's a lot of information in there you'd never find anywhere else. Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down." -- Beth Anderson, author of Night Sounds, Murder Online, and Second Generation