Saturday, August 24, 2019

Hardboiled and Hard Luck

Hardboiled & Hard Luck / Banana Yoshimoto;
trans. from the Japanese by Michael Emmerich
NY: Grove, 2006, c1999.
149 p.
I always enjoy Banana Yoshimoto's work, and this was no exception to that rule. This is two short novellas, both on the theme of loss, grief, and acceptance. They are quite different from one another in many ways, but are both beautifully told, with her typical young female narrator and stories focused on relationships and the ephemerality of life. 

In Hard Boiled, an unnamed woman is hiking to a small town on the anniversary of a former lover's death. She passes a creepy shrine on the way, and somehow spirits and visions follow her and fill her night. She is haunted both by visitations of her former lover when she sleeps, and by the local hotel ghost when she's awake. It reminds me a little of the spirits and otherworldly creatures found in Japanese film. 

But the solid reality of the hotel's desk clerk, and of sunshine the next morning, clears her mind and she comes to an understanding of what has happened to her. It's beautiful, steeped in memory and nostalgia, regret and loss. And yet also of a vision of the future. All in such a short piece. 

Hard Luck focuses on a young woman whose sister Kuni is in a coma and about to be declared dead. She visits her sister in the hospital and remembers their childhood and their friendship; all the things they used to do and wanted to do in future. It's sad; the way that Yoshimoto keeps emotion cool and in check in her stories almost broke here; I choked up at one point. 

We also hear how the loss of this hardworking girl is affecting her parents, who are taking it in different ways. And though the coma was brought about by overwork (very Japanese) her coworkers are also feeling the loss. 

Kuni's fiance has abandoned the family for the most part; but his older brother, an unusual type who isn't a businessman at all, visits regularly to check up on Kuni and the whole family. He's attracted to the narrator but clearly states that the time isn't right to start anything, which they both agree on. Maybe after she returns from Italy where she will go to study once Kuni is gone. 

All these small moments around the loss of a sister and the way that life must continue build up into a quiet, strong story about life itself. It reveals quite a lot about Japanese culture in an offhand way, and has the strength that Yoshimoto excels at, that of showing the peace that life and its continued routines bring even in moments of extreme suffering. 

I found both of these touching and memorable. If you like slow, thoughtful, introspective stories that don't go too deep and yet touch on meaningful themes, you will probably like this too. 


  1. I've enjoyed your recent focus on Japanese literature. Japan is one of those countries that I find both fascinating and mystifying. For some reason, I find it difficult to picture what everyday life is like in Japan for those who are just trying to get by and raise a family, etc. And sometimes the best way to explore that kind of thing in depth is through a country's thanks.

    1. Thanks! I do like Japanese literature; I'd like to read more, actually. I also find that fiction is a good way to explore the everyday, to see how people think and manage and just live.


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