The Geographer is a fictional story about a middle-aged professor of World Geography at Oregon State University who had never been out of the state of Oregon in his entire life, but finally ventures out of his shell and goes to Japan to teach World Geography for two semesters on a program established by Japan’s Ministry of Education to promote internationalization.
In a full-page review in Kansai Time Out (Japan’s largest English-written magazine), William Corr, who also reviewed books for the Japan Times, wrote this about The Geographer: “The innocent abroad is a recurring and probably inexhaustible literary theme, and here it is very deftly handled.… Characterization is excellent and savage…. This is a jolly good novel if not a major contribution to the canon of Western Literature.”
Historically set in Kobe in the fall of 1994, the story culminates with the Great Hanshin Earthquake and registers a high reading on the Laughter Scale. Maryellen Mori, Head of Japanese Studies at Santa Clara University, wrote: “I haven’t laughed out loud so much while reading a book for longer than I can remember.” Glenn Webb, Director of the Institute for the Study of Asian Culture at Pepperdine University, wrote: “I laughed my guts out.” Ralph Peterson, President and CEO of CH2M Hill Companies, Ltd., said, “I laughed so hard I almost peed my pants.”
But The Geographer is more than just a funny book. Don Palmer, Business Development Manager for Hewlett-Packard, wrote, “It’s not just funny; it’s educational. Anyone interested in Japan should read this book.” In a review in the Medford Mail Tribune, Bill Varble wrote: “This book is steeped heavily in all things Japanese. An interesting device Riva has used is to have some of his characters speak in Japanese, then follow the quotes with translations, sort of like subtitles in a movie. In fact, the reader eventually gets a feeling somewhat akin to watching a foreign film…. Here is everything you ever wanted to know about Japan, and more.”
Paul DeYoung, Director of International Programs at Reed College, wrote, “I enjoyed the book and am sure that my students will enjoy and get useful information, in addition to laughs, in reading it.” C.P. Braugh, Chairman and CEO of Mitsubishi Silicon America, wrote: “As one who lived in Japan for several years, I was extremely impressed with your insights into the culture and society of the Japanese people.” Thom Hartmann, America's number-one progressive radio talk-show host, called The Geographer “brilliant” and said that it was one of the best books he’d read in the last ten years.