Homa Pourasgari’s novel The American Outsider follows an American animal rights activist to Japan, where she advocates for the rights of dolphins and finds an unexpected chance at love.
At age 40, Tessa Walker remains haunted by a teenage trip to Japan, where she saw dolphins cruelly hunted and killed. Now a veterinarian in Los Angeles, Tessa decides to return to Japan and raise awareness about the still-ongoing dolphin hunts.
Between planning protests and exploring the country, Tessa doesn’t have romance on her mind. So when Toshiro Yokoyama, the playboy scion of a wealthy retail family, kisses her on a dare, she slaps him and puts the indignity behind her. But when Tessa and Toshiro meet again, she can’t deny her attraction to him. As the story evolves, Tessa’s protests garner increasing attention from the authorities, eventually putting her freedom in jeopardy, and Toshiro’s family’s disapproval threatens their relationship.
The novel’s descriptions of the plight of hunted and captive dolphins are heartbreaking, if occasionally repetitive. The narrative explains, for example, how dolphins in captivity exhibit “neurotic behavior”; are often treated with ulcer medication or antidepressants; and sometimes “commit suicide by banging their heads against the walls of their tanks.”
Equally evocative are the depictions of Japan from Tessa’s viewpoint. Through her Japanese hostess and Toshiro, Tessa learns everything from gift-giving customs to restaurant etiquette to religious rituals. Pourasgari based the novel in part on her own travels in Japan, and this authenticity bursts through the pages.
As for the romance subplot, it’s initially enjoyable to watch Tessa and Toshiro learn to appreciate each other and grow through their relationship. Unfortunately, their love story takes a soap-opera turn in the book’s last 100 pages, undermining its generally low-key and quirky tone.
Toning down the melodrama at the end would help it reach an even broader audience. Nonetheless, The American Outsider has much to offer readers.