The Roundup: Books Read in January 2018

I have been inching my way through Caleb Carr’s The Alienist since the beginning of the new year. I can’t fault the story for my slow-like-molasses progression; I’m only 100+ in, and I am HOOKED. It’s just that I can’t help but double-dip sometimes, ya’know? This time around, I found myself reaching for quick reads, the ones that don’t exceed more than 250 pages.  Going through my TBR stacks, I found that most of the books that fit the bill are primarily by Japanese authors.  Enjoy!

 

The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto

After the death of her mother, Chihiro, a mural artist living in Tokyo, finds herself reflecting on her loss and struggling with her feelings towards her surviving parent. She finds a degree of comfort in her work and in her relationship with Nakajima, a fragile young man struggling with his own personal pain. As Chihiro’s feelings for him deepen, she slowly unravels the mystery behind the grief that has shadowed him for so long.

The Lake is another one of those slow-paced and introspective Japanese stories that one would find gripping if endowed with an admirable amount of patience. As a fan of Banana Yoshimoto’s books, I really wanted to enjoy this but I found my attention slipping most of the time until the moment Nakajima’s backstory came to light. Though buoyed by Yoshimoto’s trademark prose, the story wasn’t very engaging or moving. Despite this, I will continue to seek out Yoshimoto’s work, as this is only the fourth book I’ve read by her and the only dud so far.

 

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

A young couple living in a rented cottage or ‘guest house’ on the grounds of a large, older estate begins to receive regular visits from a cat recently adopted by a neighboring family. Named Chibi – the Japanese term for ‘little one’ or ‘small’ – the cat soon becomes a regular fixture in their home, providing small, unexpected moments of joy on a daily basis.

Do not be fooled by the book’s blurb on the inside flap, or assume that the brief description that I just provided is the whole premise. The Guest Cat is not a cut-and-dry story of how a cute kitty comes to save a marriage with its mysterious feline magic, that’s a whole other book entirely. Instead, it is more of a philosophical meditation on people, life in transition, and loss. It’s also a quiet little story of how a couple come to love their furry four-legged visitor.

 

Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa

Sentaro is a young man with a troubled past. After spending time behind bars, he is given a job making and selling dorayaki (pancakes with red bean paste filling) at a confectionary shop. Over time, he has come to loathe working there, but sees no other way to pay off his financial debts to his late boss’s wife. One day, while standing at the griddle in front of the shop, he is approached by Tokue, an elderly woman with disfigured hands who offers to work for him. As it turns out, she knows how to make the tastiest red bean paste from scratch, and very soon customers notice the change in the dorayaki as well. As business at the shop flourishes, so does Sentaro’s friendship with Tokue.

Out of the three books featured in this post, this one is my favorite. It’s one of the coziest books I’ve ever read, and and it speaks so much of the redemptive power of friendship and how everyone is – no matter who you are or what your circumstances are – capable of contributing something good to this world.  Like dorayaki, for example.

*Update*  Hey, they made a movie adaptation of this book!

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