Twelve years have passed since Kei’s husband, Rei, mysteriously vanished without a trace, leaving behind her and their 3-year-old daughter, Momo. Since then, Kei’s life has remained in a sort of limbo, populated by memories of Rei and their life together prior to his disappearance. She is ‘involved’ with a married man named Seiji, their decade-long affair offering a small measure of physical comfort, while at home Momo, now a budding teenager, is becoming increasingly distant with her.
Kei soon finds herself being drawn to the quiet seaside town of Manazuru, a place pulled from a page in her husband’s old diary. But with every trip to that town, Kei memories begin to take a life of their own, blurring the line between what is imagined and what is real.
Hiromi Kawakami first caught my attention with her offbeat and tender love story, Strange Weather in Tokyo, or The Briefcase, as it is originally known. I later followed it up with The Nakano Thrift Shop, a sly slice-of-life that quickly became one of my favorites. In Manazuru, Kawakami took me on a meditative and moody exploration of a woman seeking to unmoor herself from a moment in time. It is also a delicate story of mothers and daughters, of what it means to love, and to let go. The story plays on Kei’s memory and perception, as every trip she takes to Manazuru begins to reveal things about her relationship with Rei that she hadn’t noticed before, suddenly calling into question her recollection of almost everything prior to him vanishing without a trace.
Out of the three books by Kawakami that I’ve read so far, Manazuru is the most poetic, and melancholic. As always, her prose is elegant in its minimalism, and yet so evocative. Her writing flows smoothly, almost rhythmically. It’s what I’ve come to appreciate and expect in her books, no matter what story she chooses to tell.