Now that I teach English as my main job I am more than ever aware of how language shapes and limits what can be expressed, how it makes and remakes the social world as it is made and remade. I have read few books from the Japanese, but I would wager I can tell such a text after reading a page! Perhaps it was the themes, not only the flavour of the language, that made this taste so distinctly Japanese to me. Quirky relationships, dramatic melancholy, organised and comfortable domesticity, defiance of convention, appreciation of food and eating, and a kind of pride of place, a cultural pride, chimed with my preconceptions.
Anyway, I love this book, which makes writing look effortless (it isn’t) and feels like a personal gift. Mikage, the protagonist, could hardly be more sympathetic as a lonely young adult struggling to overcome grief, and the relationships she is lucky enough to be pulled into nourished my heart as they did hers. The writing is spare, poetic, direct, and often original in its images. As a love story, this feels gloriously contemporary and cinematic.
One of the important characters in the book, Eriko, is a transsexual woman, and Yoshimoto both has her speak her own truth and presents her in a very positive light as self-willed, resiliant, highly atttractive, extremely generous, and surrounded by loving friends. She is also a victim of anti-trans violence.
Personally, I felt sad that both Mikage and her friend Yuichi are negative about vegetarian food! Otherwise, I might give it 5 stars.