By the Book @ Rogers Memorial Library

The Lake, by Banana Yoshimoto

Banana Yoshimoto may be a strange name, but it is one you should know.  This Japanese writer has just published The Lake, her 12th novel (the 8th to be translated into English), yet another ethereal, mesmerizing story within a unique genre that combines women’s fiction, mystical realism, and adult fairy tales.  Her novels are short and deceptively simple: they can often be read in one or two sittings, but her simplistic language builds engaging stories that linger long after the book has been returned to the library.

Chihiro comes from a small town in Japan.  Her mother and father never married and she wasn’t particularly close to her father.  When her mother passes away after a long and painful illness, Chihiro moves to Tokyo to get away from her past and to begin art school.  Her life is filled with lonely days, staring out the window of her apartment.  One day, she notices a tall, thin man staring out of his window in another apartment complex across the street.  She notices him often, and soon they begin to wave, then shout hello, and eventually they meet for tea.  His name is Nakajima, and the two lonely, lost souls begin a friendship that turns into an uncertain, halting romance.

Chihiro discovers a great friend in Nakajima, but she can tell that there is something below the surface that he isn’t sharing.  Nakajima is studying for his doctorate, and is obsessive about his work.  He begins to spend all of his time at Chihiro’s apartment and does not like to go out.  He speaks of his mother’s death, and other upsetting topics, with no emotion.  The closer they become, the more Chihiro trusts and depends on Nakajima.  When he takes her on a road trip to a small house on a lake outside of Tokyo, she meets friends from his past.  But it isn’t until she returns to the lake on her own that she discovers the origin of their friendship and the shocking truth of Nakajima’s past.

Banana Yoshimoto’s latest is both a love story and a mystery, written in sparse language, though the novel’s characters and setting are carefully drawn.  In all of the author’s books, Japan also figures as a character: the city, the country, the food, and the people are brought to life within her stories.  If you enjoy women’s fiction with a mystical element, like Francesca Lia Block’s Ruby, or Alice Hoffman’s The Red Garden, check out Banana Yoshimoto.

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