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Goodbye Tsugumi, by Banana Yoshimoto.

March 6, 2012

Goodbye Tsugumi, by Banana Yoshimoto. Grove Press (2002), Hardcover, 186 pages. Michael Emmerich, translator..

An engaging novel by a Japanese woman capturing the contradictions and fragility of experience.

Plot summaries of this book are misleading. Yoshimoto’s characters are just too unique. A sense of impending loss pervades her book, and yet its mood is bright and enjoyable. The book is narrated by Maria, a young woman, leaving the small seaside village of her childhood, but returning for one last summer there. The main character is Tsugumi, Maria’s cousin whose health is so poor she could die at any monument. Tsugumi is beautiful, but never the sickly but sweet girl of romantic visions. Lashing out at those closest to her has become her way of dealing with pain and eminent death. As Maria and readers increasingly understand, she has a spark of energy, of life, that make both appealing and appalling.

Yoshimoto is a genius at revealing the inadequacy of the dualisms with which we try to capture life. In her hands happiness and sadness are inseparable. Anticipation and memory are ever-present. People, like Tsugumi, can’t be categorized as good or bad. At yet times change. The summer and childhood end. Even the sky and ocean transform themselves.

Goodbye, Tsugumi is not magical realism or experimental writing. Yoshimoto describes events and places with concrete details in chronological order, with some insertion of memories and visions of the future. The landscape is an ever-changing element in the story. Yohomito’s depiction of fluidity and change is forceful because it is so firmly rooted in physical details.

A wonderful book that I recommend highly to all who are willing to be open to change and loss.

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