An eerie and elegant puzzle.

THE PERFECT WORLD OF MIWAKO SUMIDA

When a Tokyo university student hangs herself in a remote forest, three devastated friends seek to understand why.

Reluctantly attending a group blind date, Waseda University student Ryusei Yanagi is immediately attracted to Miwako Sumida, whose “serious expression behind a pair of old-fashioned thick-rimmed glasses” and blunt manner are at odds with her prettier and flirtier girlfriends. “She seemed sensible,” Ryu thinks. As they bond while browsing in an English-language bookshop and reading together in the library, Ryu falls in love with Miwako, sensing a softness and compassion behind her hard exterior, but she refuses to date him. Fumi, Ryu’s transgender sister, is also intrigued by the stubborn and standoffish girl, whom she hires as a painting assistant for her studio. Eight months later, Miwako is dead, and a grieving Ryusei travels with Miwako’s close friend Chie Ohno to Kitsuyama, a mountain village where Miwako spent her final days, to find answers. Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Fumi receives an unexpected visitor who might hold a clue to Miwako’s suicide. Set in the same moodily atmospheric Japanese world as her acclaimed debut novel, Rainbirds (2018), Indonesian-born Singaporean writer Goenawan explores via the perspectives of Ryu, Fumi, and Chie how a carefully crafted facade of hardened perfection can crumble under the weight of painful secrets and shame, leading to tragedy. Although the nature of Miwako’s hidden past becomes apparent early on, she is such a compelling protagonist that the reader doesn’t mind the obviousness. Like Japanese brush painting, the author’s simple, clear prose captures Miwako's vulnerability and complexity. Also vividly drawn are Fumi and Chie, each having built their own unusual protective personas that are gradually revealed.

An eerie and elegant puzzle.

Pub Date: March 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64129-119-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 11

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner

  • National Book Award Finalist

A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

Did you like this book?

more