Keener publishes book on journey away from home

Published 8:27 am Tuesday, June 22, 2010

When lifelong Austin resident Peggy (McLaughlin) Keener moved from Austin to Asia in the 1960s she experienced a bit of culture shock.

Keener spent about 25 years on the other side of the globe, and now at the age of 71, she has published a memoir about her misadventures as a Minnesota housewife living in Japan.

It is called “Potato in a Rice Bowl.”

“When I left Austin, the city was my only point of life reference,” Keener explained. “It was my only point of comparison, but the ridiculous thing was that there was no comparison — Austin, Minnesota to Tokyo, Japan?”

The 407-page book begins on a serious note, chronicling a near-shipwreck that almost took her own life and the lives of her two young sons before she ever made it to Japan.

The book quickly turns into a humorous account of her overseas endeavors, Keener said, where she writes as if she is talking directly to her readers.

For example, an excerpt: “My first view of sushi was lovely, as pretty a piscine presentation as I had ever seen; absolutely nothing whatsoever like the colorless Norwegian lutefisk back home. I paused to wonder how it would play out in Austin. Probably not. Next to the noodle and canned tuna casseroles that the hair-netted Ladies Guild served in the Westminster Presbyterian Church basement, sushi would undoubtedly have a barbaric, cannibalistic ring to it. That realization was all the proof I needed to explain why missionaries fail.”

Through vignettes like this one, Keener examines her voyage into Japanese culture after her husband accepted a military assignment in the country thousands of miles away from the small city in which she was born and raised.

Keener, who now lives in Minnetonka, Minn., includes tales of settling her disoriented family, while her husband was miles away on military missions. She writes about her boys’ Japanese schooling, the eccentricities of her neighbors, learning the language and somehow ending up as a personality on Japanese national television.

Keener has written two other books that have not been published; she also authored one chapter of “Austin Remembers.”

“Potato in a Rice Bowl” is available through Barnes and Noble booksellers and It can also be obtained at an author’s discount directly from Keener, by contacting