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.
Levy Hideo is the pen name of Ian Hideo Levy. He is the first Westerner to become a novelist in Japanese. Born in 1950 to a Jewish father and a Polish mother, he spent his childhood in Taiwan and Hong Kong. He taught Japanese literature at Princeton and Stanford, and received a National Book Award for his translations from the ancient poetry anthology, Man'yoshu (The Ten Thousand Leaves). Since moving to Tokyo in 1990, he has published more than a dozen volumes of fiction and nonfiction spanning America, Japan and China. The winner of numerous Japanese literary and cultural awards, including the prestigious Osaragi Prize, he has become a major international voice in contemporary Japanese literature. Christopher D. Scott was born in the United States but attended high school in Japan. He received his B.A. from Princeton University and his Ph.D. from Stanford University.