Paperback, 192 pages
Published May 1st 2014 by Portobello Books
Source: Library copy
“I, on the other hand, still might not be considered a proper adult. I had been very grown-up in primary school. But as I continued through secondary school, I in fact became less grown-up. And then as the years passed, I turned into quite a childlike person. I suppose I just wasn’t able to ally myself with time.”
You may or may not have noticed a dearth of reviews around this side of the blogosphere. There are many reasons for that but mostly because I do not feel like writing reviews for the books I read in my own time. Having my analytical cap on perpetually is not something I can help but putting my analysis to words can easily become a chore–something I wish to avoid at all costs. Seeing my fellow bloggers (Renae and Glaiza, in particular) talk so passionately about books they chose to review and were not sent for the explicit purpose of reviewing made me rethink the whole venture. As in, why do people review? Obviously it is to share books they love with the rest of the world, but I think that is not the sole reason. Reviewing books allows the reader to immerse him/herself into the world a little bit longer–I am talking about books that were interesting to read. A negative review is a whole different kettle of fish and needs a different post to addressed properly.
Anyway, as I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, reviewing can also be a method to continue immersing yourself into a wonderful world that you had to regretfully leave behind once you read the book.
So, I read this one a few weeks ago and I keep on thinking about how beautiful the book was. How gently it flowed, how quietly profound it was. The book is about Tsukiko who is in her late 30s (as the back copy says) and one day in a bar she runs into her high school teacher, her sensei. He recognizes her immediately but she takes a while to reconcile the older man in front of her with the teacher from her youth. He taught Japanese literature and Tsukiko wasn’t a very good student.
Sitting next to her teacher, whom she simply addresses as Sensei, she finds out gradually that they have the same taste in food and drinks. Their conversations are meandering and their intimacy grows very gradually. The book mostly takes place in the bars where the meet in the evenings for a meal, to talk, or to drink. Or all three. They go to a reunion, go on a trip, meet at the teacher’s house for more drinking. Their relationship flows like a river, slowly gathering depth and gaining meaning.
I loved how Kawakami expressed the humanness in all of us via her characters. The book has no epic romance, it has no strong heroines, or a thrilling plot. It is merely a promenade through the very simple life of two people who find in each other something they didn’t know was lacking in their lives. The book made me think on the vagaries of existence and the connections we have to not just the people around us but also to ourselves at any point in our lives.
Tsukiko’s small journeys to the bar and back home, her relationships with her mother, her sense of isolation spoke to me as a modern woman for whom loneliness is less about being lonely than it is about peace. I enjoyed this novel immensely and if you like the slightly sad but deeply rewarding books about being human and having love, you may enjoy this too.