Friday, September 4, 2009

Goodbye Tsugumi

Confession time. I have an ugly secret. A few months ago, I read a post on a book blog and I made a stupid comment. I suggested that perhaps the most notable thing about Banana Yoshimoto was her name. Almost immediately, I regretted posting this comment, and because I couldn't delete it, soon posted another comment, saying that I'd been unfair, having never read her work. Time passed. I still felt bad about my foolish remark (and still do). I've since read some glowing reviews of Banana Yoshimoto's work. The moment I signed up for Bellezza's third Japanese Literature Challenge, I knew I had to read a novel by Banana Yoshimoto. This challenge compelled me to finally get one of her books and read it.

Goodbye Tsugumiwas published in 1998 in Japan, and translated into English by Michael Emmerich in 2002. Banana Yoshimoto is actually the pen name for Mahoko Yoshimoto, the author of several novels popular in Japan and many other countries.
This short novel tells the story of two cousins, Maria, 19 years old, and Tsugumi, 18 years old, who are very different from each other. Maria is kind and compassionate, whereas Tsugumi is often unpleasant to others, downright mean and nasty. She's described by Maria in the first few pages of the book:

"She was malicious, she was rude, she had a foul mouth, she was selfish, she was horribly spoiled, and to top it all off she was brilliantly sneaky. The obnoxious smirk that always appeared on her face after she'd said the one thing that everyone presently didn't want to hear--and said it at the most exquisitely wrong time, using the most unmistakably clear language and speaking in the ugliest, most disagreeable tone--made her seem exactly like the devil."
~Goodbye Tsugumi, Banana Yoshimoto

Tsugumi is, in a word, obnoxious. She's also been frail and sickly since birth, prone to fevers, and not expected to live a long life. The narrator of the story, Maria, has spent her childhood at the seaside Yamamoto Inn (which is owned by Tsugumi's family), with her mother and Tsugumi's family, and feels most at home here with them by the ocean. When Maria moves to Tokyo with her parents she longs for the ocean, and Tsugumi invites her to spend one last summer at the inn, which will be closed down in the spring. It is during this particular summer that Maria and Tsugumi grow closer. Maria not only puts up with her cousin's behavior, she actually loves her deeply. I, too, began to care about Tsugumi, in spite of her difficult personality. Although in poor health, Tsugumi shows considerable strength, as well as spirit and spunk, and is lively companion to her cousin.

The fleeting nature of time, specifically of the summer, is an important theme in the book, bringing to mind the season's ephemeral sandcastles, and Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, which I've read, and Farewell Summer, which I'll read closer to the summer's end. Yoshimoto captures many sparkling moments, made even more poignant by the shadow of death which hovers near Tsugumi.

"I wanted to hold on to the particular feeling of languor that I got as I walked the streets of this town, the town of my past, which I would lose when summer ended."
~Goodbye Tsugumi, Banana Yoshimoto

I felt the same way about this book: I did not want it to end. Yoshimoto's writing is sharp, clear, concise, striking. I wanted to hold onto this book longer, to savor it; I'm sure I'll reread it. I'll definitely read more books by this author!

In 1990, Goodbye Tsugumi was made into a movie, directed by Jun Ichikawa. I'd like to see it if it's available here.

For another review of Goodbye Tsugumi, please visit The Reading Life.


  1. This sounds like a good book to read. May have a look at it, after I've finished another Yoshimoto book I have on my shelf at the moment.

    Oh, and about your comment. To be quite honest, I think the name of the author did stand out when I was first glancing through the different authors of Japanese Lit. Personally, I don't think you should be too hard on yourself for the comment. Maybe a lot of us (myself included) actually feel the same way. =)

  2. This is the second superb review I've read of this book. I have my library chasing a copy for me at the moment as I clearly have to read it. Thanks for reaffirming the earlier impression I had.

  3. I also felt very sad when the book was over-I wanted it to go on much longer.

  4. I remember that comment :)
    I'm glad that you liked her book. I wasn't impressed with her other 2 books, but who knows, I might try another one in the future. I gave Goodbye Tsugumi to my sis-in-law as a present. I do hope that she'd enjoy it when she gets to reading it.

  5. Oh I hate when say something I can't undo like that! I'm glad you were able to read a book of hers.

    I've not read a lot of Japanese literature. For some reason, it really intimidates me. I've slowly gotten interested in cultures from around the world one by one, but my brain hasn't moved on to Japanese culture yet. And I say that expecting that it will some day - we're just slowly making our obsessive way around the globe. My brain takes time because it likes to absorb a LOT in each place, rather than taking a little from everywhere at once. :)

  6. So happy that you enjoyed thhis author's book after all. I do get mad at myself, when I get a preconceived notion about something, when there is nothing to substantiate that feeling.

    Thanks for sharing this story and book with us!

  7. Thank you all for your comments. I'm not sure which novel by Banana Yoshimoto I'll read next and am open to suggestions.

    More comments welcomed!

    (P.S. I'll be "unplugged" for a couple of days.)

  8. Hello, Suko! I've read Amrita. It's one her earlier books and it's quite long. It still is a very satisfying read though.

  9. I've only read Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto, and I found it quite touching. She is able to address matters of the heart in a succinct way. It's funny you should mention writing something in a comment and then regretting it. I hate when that happens! But, I don't think you need to carry any more guilt about it. ;)

  10. I have never read anything by Banana Yoshimoto because I had heard her writing was a little stark, but after reading your review and the excerpts from this book, I think I am going to do some further investigating. It sounds like this was a lovely read for you. Great review!

  11. It sounds like a good book - glad to see you were wrong about Banana. You do have to admit that it's an unusual pen name to choose.

  12. Peter, I haven't heard of this one. I'll see if I can get a copy of Amrita. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Bellezza, Kitchen is one of her most popular books and I do feel like I will read it. Thanks for stopping by and posting a comment. Your reading challenge got me to finally finally finally read a book by a Japanese author. (I may also review Crow Boy or another book.)

    Zibilee and Bermudaonion, thanks for your comments, too. I actually like strange pen names, such as Banana and Zibilee and Bermudaonion. : )

  13. Intriguing. I have never heard of Banana Yoshimoto before. I definitely need to add her to my TBR pile!

  14. without giving away any plot elements-how did everyone react to Tsugumi's big action scene?

  15. What a great post! I have a Banana Yoshimoto book on my shelf that remains unread and I think after reading your post I am going to try to read it soon (it would be my second read for the Japanese Literature Challenge).


  16. Mel, I was utterly surprised by what happened. I knew something was up but. . . .

    Naida, I think you'd enjoy her writing. I'm going to get another one of her books very soon.

  17. Dont be so hard on yourself about the comment, it happens to all of us :)
    This sounds like an interesting book. Its great when the reader doesnt want the book to end.

  18. I have been over ambitious this year! and joined so many challenges that i am sure i won't finish! but that's ok.. i like the fun in doing challenges!

    i m in for RIP and jap 3 as well! That comment was bad :P but it is ok because u corrected it.. went ahead and read a book... that i now want to read too :) good girl :)

  19. Thanks for this review. I found Kitchen not a very memorable book but now I might try some Banana Yoshimoto again!

  20. I've seen this book a couple of times at the bookstore. Now you make me want to pick it up. Sounds like a good book to read when it's raining. Thanks for the honest and convincing review Suko :)


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