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Not exactly sure how to describe this book, which is a big compliment. Don Mitchell remembers his friend and the search for her killer, but he also integrates the fifty years of not knowing who murdered Jane Britton -- how he lived with false assumptions, how he kept her memory alive, and what the recent developments mean to him. Wonderful book.

 

Don Mitchell’s memoir, Shibai, is composed of interlocking strands in which Mitchell narrates the story of his life in Hawaii; his anthropological studies; his mediocrity as an academic; and his marriage. However, the most searing narrative arc in the memoir relates his experience of his friend Jane’s death when they were graduate students in the 1970s. Jane was murdered. Don lived in the apartment next door, and he was, for a while, a suspect. Shibai recounts the story of his relationship with Jane as he tells it to New Yorker staffer Becky Cooper who, as it happens, published a book about Jane, We Keep the Dead Close, in the same month Mitchell’s book appeared (November 2020). But Mitchell’s investigation into his past is as much about his own failures to see who Jane was and how his life might have been different had his vision of himself been as lucid as his perspective on his anthropological subjects. It is a memoir about seeing and re-seeing—late in life, when of course, new vision strikes us with maximum ferocity.