Six interconnected tales set in post–World War II Japan focus mainly on the evolving relationship between a melancholy literature student and the sweet waitress he marries.
Smitten from the moment he sees Shino at the crowded Tokyo restaurant where she works, the unnamed narrator of this collection has to summon considerable courage to court the 20-year-old waitress, who is already engaged to someone else. That fact does not stand in the way of true love, though, and the two marry quickly, in spite of his belief that his family is somehow cursed. Four of his five older siblings are gone, with two sisters committing suicide and his brothers running off to an unknown fate, leaving him to look after his parents and remaining disabled sister. Preoccupied with death and ambivalent about starting a family, he nonetheless takes strength from his cheerful bride, who has risen above her own sad history. Choosing an austere penniless existence reminiscent of a Dostoevsky protagonist, our hero dedicates himself to his writing, as Shino helps support him financially and emotionally after his graduation. And while the reader might think his choices a bit unfair to Shino, there is never any doubt that they share a deep intimacy. Eventually, expecting their first child, the impoverished couple returns to his rural hometown, where he must content with his past if he is to have any hope of a future, starting with the loss of his father in “Face of Death.” The author switches gears for the final story, “And All Promenade!,” which concerns a young father who must renegotiate his family role after a careless moment with his young daughter. No less powerful than the others, this final piece convincingly depicts both the strength and fragility of close relationships. A sensation when first published in Miura’s native Japan, the book, his first to be translated into English, is at times repetitious, but it is blessed with a lovely timelessness.
A moving and memorable introduction to a worthy voice.