Last week, Freight Books read…

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi KawakamiStrange Weather in Tokyo, by Hiromi Kawakami (trans. Allison Markin Powell), published by Portobello books.

What a beautiful novel! A funny, ethereal and above all heartfelt love story between two isolated people. Strange Weather in Tokyo was shortlisted for the International Foreign Fiction Prize and could quite easily have won it, in my book. My only criticism (and it isn’t really one) is that it was too easy to read; I flashed through it in a matter of days, buoyed on by an expertly crafted strain of will-they-won’t-they authorship.

I hadn’t really read much Japanese fiction before beyond Murakami, though I have watched a fair bit of Anime, so somewhat strangely I think I visualised this book in that cartoon style, but that worked really well so I am in no way complaining.

It is the pauses, the silences between two people that are so hard to work into fiction, that excel here which must surely be a mark of the quality of this translation. Much of this novel revolves around things left unsaid or said but not replied to. To give you a short intro without ruining everything the novel concerns a thirty-something woman, Tsukiko, meeting an old teacher in a bar, and we get to watch them fall in love. This may sound schmaltzy, and really it should be, but it isn’t, I promise you.

I don’t want to dwell to much on cultural stereotypes, and I am very aware of the gap in my knowledge here, so all I will say is that the novel feels very Japanese, if being Japanese means tightly restrained but boiling with emotion within. And being lonely. There is a lot of loneliness in these pages, and it isn’t nice. It is a resigned loneliness, as though the characters just don’t believe that it is a state that can ever end. One to read.

My thanks to Portobello Books for sending me a review copy of this delightful little book. My only gripe is the cover is a bit rubbish, but only a bit, and that in no way ruined my appreciation of the content.

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