I’m always conflicted when I pick up a memoir by a writer whose work I have not read. I’m not sure it makes sense to read a memoir by someone whose claim to fame one is not familiar with.

Nevertheless, I’m glad I read Kyoko Mori’s memoir Yarn. I’ll admit it was the balls of wool on the cover that got me. But the book way exceeded my expectations.

Recently, I’ve been experiencing the itch to go the Japan. People in Hong Kong are crazy about Japan, but I never felt a strong desire to go there, partly because I did visit when I was nine and I remember that trip quite clearly though I’m sure things have changed a lot since then. However, now I think it’s time for a revisit. V has never been and we’re on the same page on it being a place we want to visit as soon as the kids are old enough.

I’ve heard some things about Japanese culture, especially the status of women, and to some extent Mori’s testimony is both confirmation of the rigidity of it all and elicited surprise in me that it really is like that. More surprising was her transcendence of it, which may have something to do with the formative years she spent with her mother before her mother committed suicide. My cousin lost her mother to a train accident when we were just entering our teens; although my cousin and I were intensely close at the time, I can only imagine the hole in her life. And my cousin did not have to contend with the appearance of an evil stepmother.

Kyoko not only survived the ordeal of her teens in a home with an unhappy woman who constantly taunted her but flew the coop as soon as she could. To understand how unusual this is, one has to contrast it with Kyoko’s friends, even the most rebellious of whom buckled down to conformity and got engaged when the time came, signing up for a variation of the life Kyoko’s parents had led. Maybe because of the way her mother’s story ended, Kyoko was determined to be different.

And how different she was. I found the description of the evolution of Kyoko’s marriage the most fascinating aspect of the book. Her life and her marriage were the opposite of everything her traditional Japanese businessman father would have envisaged for her. She married a man she loved essentially to get a green card, although both of them didn’t believe in marriage. Although documentation might seem a prosaic reason to marry, for people not entirely convinced of the institution, it’s a darn good one. Their agreement on getting married was that it would not be permanent, each of them reserved the right to get out if they tired of the arrangement. Instead of blending their lives together as married people are supposed to do, they kept themselves separate, leading parallel but companionable and loving lives. Ironically, they ended their marriage holding hands at the divorce court.

I have always thought of myself as unconventional. However, I have ended up making conventional life choices at least at the macro level, even though in the details I don’t conform. The straight path seemed easier than forging an alternative. But Kyoko’s leaps make me wonder – would choosing differently have been all that hard? We are in a different position from our mothers, and many of our fears are in our own head, the legacy of a previous generation’s blueprint for life. I guess I didn’t want to live with the what if. But now I think I know better.

I’ve always thought that people who are unconventional are those that are extremely confident in their vision. Then I’ve looked closely and realises that many of them are slightly deluded. They are making it up as they go along, their eyes on a way of life that reality doesn’t quite match up to but they continue to perform that life staunchly believing in it. My problem if I went that way would be that I would keep picking at the loose threads until there’s a gaping hole, exposing the gaps that I sensed were there for all to see. Kyoko is one of the first who seemed to me to know what they wanted – the opposite of the life her childhood offered – and who did exactly that or thereabouts, and honestly seeing it for what it is. What it is, it turns out, isn’t half bad.