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Although cultural mores are changing, foreign nannies remain a rarity in Japan compared with many Western countries. Rarer still is the foreign nanny novel set in Japan.

Yuki Means Happiness, by Alison Jean Lester.
288 pages
JOHN MURRAY, Fiction.

Regardless of culture, however, when it comes to the minding and rearing of children, there will always be tension involved. Alison Jean Lester uses that tension in telling the story of Diana, an American nanny who takes a short-term job in Boston looking after a Japanese family and their newborn daughter, Yuki.

Within a month of Yuki’s birth the Yoshimuras are back in Japan, and Diana returns to her nursing job in Boston.

However, a couple of years later, Diana finds herself reinterviewing for the same job, though this time the position is in Tokyo, and the role has expanded to surrogate mother: Yuki’s real mother, Emi, has been banished from the family.

Diana is now older, and her life is more complicated, but she’s restless and still fond of the baby she coddled — so she makes the move from West to East.

Novels can take many paths in their quest to deliver a resolution: Lester tells a straight story that is devoid of unnecessary diversions, with back stories kept to a minimum.

In parts, the novel can feel diary-like, outlining the chores and adjustments Diana makes with a new family in new surroundings. But Naoki Yoshimura, her employer and the paterfamilias, has a dark secret that forces Diana’s hand, propelling the story forward as she tries to keep the child safe and ultimately find her own happiness.

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