The sign on the fence says, “Caution: A panda may be in this yard.” And as I peer through a glass panel, I see that it is accurate. There is, indeed, a panda in the yard.
Her name is Bao Bao, and on this cold and windy afternoon at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. , she is prostrate and asleep. “She’s like, Yeah I’m being a panda. This is what I do,” says Brandie Smith, the zoo’s associate director of animal-care sciences.
Next to us is a white metal crate—four feet high, and six feet long. The FedEx logo is emblazoned on the top. On the side, there’s a sticker that reads “Contents: one panda,” and some “This Way Up” arrows. On February 21, Bao Bao will be ushered into this crate for a 16-hour flight to China. It’ll be the only flight she ever takes, and the first time she’ll venture out of the zoo where she was born. She will travel as she has always lived—in the bright gleam of the public eye.
It is this radical disbelief — a disbelief, it appears, even in the power of art — that makes Kitamura’s accomplished novel such a coolly unsettling work.
“Human brains are hard-wired to fill in blanks when they see them,” said Helen R. Friedman, a clinical psychologist in St. Louis. “In difficult times, when life begins to feel out of control or when faced with an emotional dilemma, working on something that has finite answers can provide a sense of security.”