Robert W. Norris,
The Many Roads to Japan:
A Search for Identity

(Osaka Kyoiku Tosho, 1997;
Jacobyte, 2002)

Robert W. Norris has adapted his autobiographical book Looking for the Summer (also available from Jacobyte Books) into a teaching aid for students learning English -- particularly Japanese students, as Norris lectures at Fukuoka International University in Japan.

He gives himself, his own character, the name John, and we are introduced to John when he decides not to fight in the Vietnam War. Unlike many who left the U.S. to dodge the draft, he joined the Air Force and became a conscientious objector, consequently serving a term in prison. He concentrates on the power of words, as he became aware that, rather than categorically refusing with a direct "no," he stated that he did not feel mentally or physically able to go to Vietnam. This simple sentence had the effect of reducing his sentence of imprisonment.

His story continues as he tries to find some meaning to his life -- he travels extensively around America and around Europe, backpacking and working in transient jobs. A reader can feel quite exhausted keeping pace with John's restless feet -- here a day, there two days, hurry around the world in 80 days!

The original book is perhaps less fatiguing, and it is perhaps the adaptation of it as a study aid that brings about a feeling of a lack of time; the descriptions are very graphic but also short. The book is not long, and there are comprehension and discussion exercises at the end of each chapter, for which teachers can get answer sheets by emailing the author at his site. There is also a glossary with additional information links at the end of the book for those wishing to know more about certain events, people, phrases and terms.

This is a quick read for someone conversant with written English and retains the reader's interest in the progression from despair through hope and to eventual contentment and success of a man who finds himself and makes a new and fulfilling life for himself in a foreign country.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 30 October 2004