The book is finished

January 12, 2013

Yokohama Yankee is finally finished. I’ve made the last changes I can make before the file goes to the printer. I’m happy with the book, but its an odd feeling. I remember a writer who said that she didn’t want to write a memoir because that would set her life in stone. She could no longer change or shape her past. I’m not sure I completely agree with her, but there is a lot of truth to what she says. Writing about yourself and your family is a process of self-revelation. Of course there is the years of research and the countless interviews. But all that information is filtered and transformed into narrative in the process of writing. The writing itself shapes the memory and what you remember of an event. Even if I write another book, I won’t be able to change that.

Even so, it’s good to have the book completed. I remember going through my great- grandfather’s reminiscences and wishing there were more details. I remember opening my grandmother Betty Stucken Helm’s notebook and reading the first few paragraphs of what was supposed to be her life’s story. She ended with  “Oh the stories I could tell.”  My father, too, made an effort to start a family history. He went on for two or three pages before ending. Now I have a book. It’s intensely personal. I look at the five generations of my family in Japan through my own feeling of growing up as an outsider in Japan and adopting two children there. Relatives who grew up in New Zealand, Germany or the United States may have a very different take on  the family. My uncle, for example, was unhappy with my portrayal of his father. But he was a younger child and he had a very different experience of his father than my father Don. I suspect there could be 10 memoirs written of the Helm family’s long presence in Japan and they could all be very different. One might glorify the family. Another might focus on the business. Since I started my exploration from the perspective of being an outsider, I have no doubt that this particular portal into the family color the decisions I made about what to write and how to portray it.

The book is done and I’m nervous. I feel very exposed and vulnerable. But I feel good about what I’ve written.


Leslie Helm

About the Author

Leslie Helm

Leslie Helm was born and raised in Yokohama, Japan, where his family has lived since 1869. He has worked as Tokyo correspondent for Business Week and the Los Angeles Times. It was during his years abroad that he adopted two Japanese children and began the research that would result in Yokohama Yankee. Helm is currently editor of Seattle Business magazine. Leslie graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a B.A. in political science and an M.A. in Asian studies. He attended the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism on a U.S. Japan Friendship Commission fellowship. Helm is currently editor of Seattle Business magazine.

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