An intriguing introduction to a significant voice in contemporary Japanese fiction.

TOURING THE LAND OF THE DEAD

This pair of novellas, ably translated from the Japanese by Trowell, marks the English-language debut of celebrated author Kashimada.

In the first novella, Touring the Land of the Dead, a delicate, layered exploration of family, trauma, and memory, Natsuko and her husband, Taichi, board a train to a luxury seaside resort–turned–"cheap health retreat." Her wealthy grandparents frequented the resort on long-ago summer vacations with her mother, and Natsuko also visited the spot in its better days with her own parents, before her father was struck by a fatal disease that plunged the family into a poverty Natsuko's feckless mother could never imagine—much less work—her way out of. The trip is their first since Taichi became ill with a progressive neurological disorder not long after they married, leaving Natsuko to support them with her part-time job at a child care center. At the humbled hotel, "the past...[creeps] up on the present," rooting Natsuko in place as her mind's eye gazes back to the 8 mm films of her mother dancing as a child with her grandparents in the hotel's once-elegant, now empty salon. Natsuko contemplates how her mother's and brother's entitlement has only grown through their own diminishment, how they've exploited Natusko and Taichi to fortify their denial, and revisiting these memories opens Natsuko to a new understanding of her obligations, affections, and what might yet be possible. The second novella, Ninety-Nine Kisses, is told through Nanako, the youngest of four sisters who live with their mother in one of Tokyo's Shitamachi, its older, traditionally less affluent and less fashionable neighborhoods. When "a pretentious-looking outsider" lands in the area, apparently looking for inspiration as an aspiring filmmaker and, Nanako suspects, easy pickings among the neighborhood girls, the elder three sisters vie for his attention. But for Nanako, he holds no interest, and she's equally uninterested in what she sees as artificial divisions of class, worth, and the self. Sexually obsessed with her sisters, she views herself as inseparable from them, four parts of a single body. While this story links thematically to Touring the Land of the Dead through its portrayal of a family in unglamorous circumstances, uncertainty in one's sense of self, and aberrant manifestations of familial bonds, it doesn't quite rise to its rarefied level.

An intriguing introduction to a significant voice in contemporary Japanese fiction.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-60945-651-1

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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