I have a strange relationship with Japanese literature. Usually Japanese books are too far out there for me. Despite of this I decided to just go for it and choose a random book for my reading challenge. I happened to have Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto unread, waiting for me at home, so in the end it was an easy choice.
Tsugumi was born different. She was frail, and everyone knew she wouldn’t live a long life. This obviously lead to everyone spoiling her rotten, which pretty much made her rotten to the core. Words describing her were malicious, rude, selfish, and sneaky. Tsugumi grew up alongside her cousin Maria on the seaside. Once Maria’s father could afford it Maria and her mother moved to Tokyo, to live “a normal life”. However, Maria ends up spending the last summer by the seaside with Tsugumi.
Maybe it’s just me, but I have a feeling something got lost in translation. It’s an easy read, at times it feels a bit too easy, at times the simplicity is simply beautiful. “It had been raining since morning. A salt-scented summer rain. And I was bored. I’d been hold up in my room for hours, reading. Tsugumi had been laid up in her futon for a few days now with a fever and a terrible headache, probably as a result of our wild night out on the veranda.”
Even though the book is short it is somehow bigger than its size. Tsugumi, is she really as bad of a person as it seems? Hasn’t it got more to do with the circumstances? The book tackles many major questions in life. What is family? Who is family? It is about loss, change, letting go, goodbyes. Things we have to deal with throughout our lives. I think the way Yoshimoto deals with these fundamental issues and questions in our lives is the reason why people have such strong mixed feelings about this book. It seems like most either hate it or love it.
I think it was worth the read, a pretty good book, but nothing special. For a Japanese book it was easy going and approachable. When a book is both well-liked and hated by readers it usually means there really is something special about it. I am pretty sure we all know someone like Tsugumi, maybe minus the “illness”, and we also know how much of our energy they suck up, and how hard it can be around them. Or… maybe sometimes it just hits too close to home, who knows?