Manazuru by Hiromi Kawakami, translated by Michael Emmerich
Manazuru is the first of Akutagawa Prize-winning Japanese writer Hiromi Kawakami’s novels to be translated into English. It’s one of those unexpected titles that wear better with time; it needs to sort of ‘sit’ after reading to fully appreciate. While the overall story might initially seem almost predictable – a woman whose husband went missing 12 years ago finally starts to remember long-buried details of his departure – quiet moments of exquisite details make the novel something memorable.
A now-elderly mother and her adult daughter changing out cold and warm weather clothing with strong memories attached to certain pieces, the wide-eyed shock of tears from a small child being disciplined for the first time, the utter relief mixed with bewildered anger at finding a careless teenager gone briefly missing … long after the book has been read, images from Kawakami’s story unexpectedly come rushing back with such resonance that you’re momentarily uncertain as to whether you read the familiar scene or experienced it yourself. That’s where Kawakami best reveals her writerly strength.
Self-sufficient, detached Kei lives in busy Tokyo with her teenage daughter, Momo; the pair have near seamlessly reintegrated into Kei’s mother’s home which Kei left when she married Rei. Rei has been missing for 12 years now, having disappeared when Momo was just 3. Now a writer, Kei lives mostly by routine, raising her daughter, while carrying on a comfortable affair with the (conveniently) unavailable Seiji, a married man from her office with three young kids.
Despite Rei’s long absence, Kei cannot, will not let go of her loss. When “the woman” appears – part memory, part ghost – with her insistent presence, Kei recognizes that she is somehow linked to the missing Rei. The woman draws Kei to the coastal town of Manazuru, where Kei goes again and again thinking that she might actually find Rei … or at least some definitive answers as to what happened all those years ago.
As she draws closer to the aggressive apparition, Kei moves further from her daughter, her mother, her lover … hovering between a world of then and now, love and loss, truth and denial. In spite of her uncertain past, Kei must eventually decide to choose her future.
Published: 2010 (United States)