{Book Review} Goodbye Tsugumi

the (4).jpgAfter finishing The Game of Thrones, I spiraled into a bit of a reading slump. I’d meant to reread Leviathan Wakes in-between A Song of Ice and Fire Books 1 & 2 but that turned out to be a bust. After GoT, Leviathan Wakes was surprisingly tedious. I remembered there being so much more zombie-related action in that novel. Its general lack of robots didn’t help and annoyed me to no end this time around.

I only made it 200 pages in before I had to stop.

With that snoozer abandoned, I had no idea what to pick up next. I tried to convince myself to start the Percy Jackson series (not QUITE ready for that yet), I picked up The Astronauts Wives Club (which did not take), and I just stared at my bookshelves a lot. It took me two weeks to settle on and read Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto.

I finally chose Goodbye Tsugumi thanks to the reading challenge I’m doing via Facebook. One of its challenges is reading a book in translation. I’d originally intended to read My Documents by Alejandro Zambra but decided I wanted something written by a woman instead. Choosing a Japanese author mainly came about because of all those Studio Ghibli films I watched last year. I wanted to get more of a sense of the culture–in a medium other than animation. Thanks to Google, I discovered Banana Yoshimoto.

Many of her books have been translated into English, but I liked the idea of a story about two cousins spending one last summer together in the beachside town where they grew up. The novel centers around Maria and Tsugumi, two cousins who are only about a year different in age. Maria grew up with Tsugumi and her family at their inn because her father was married to someone other than her mother. Until he divorced his first wife (which took until Maria was grown up), Maria and her mother couldn’t live with him in Tokyo.

Tsugumi and Maria were close–mainly because Maria understood her cantankerous cousin better than anyone else. Tsugumi was chronically ill and chronically bad tempered. She had been born sickly and everyone knew she could die at any time. As a child, she’d been spoiled and she stayed spoiled and selfish as she grew older. Maria and everyone else took this in stride, but Maria, in particular bonded, with her cousin and understood why she did the things she did.

After Maria finally moved to Tokyo to be with her father, she learned that Tsugumi’s family was going to sell the inn where she grew up. They wanted to have a resort in the mountains (which was only partly influenced by the fact that a new family was coming to town to build a huge hotel). They invited Maria to spend the last summer at the inn with her cousin. That last summer would change Tsugumi forever.

Goodbye Tsugumi reads almost like young adult novel. The story deals with coming of age, young love, and a life changing summer vacation. If it wasn’t for the fact that the the tone of the novel’s nostalgic and sad, I’d say that Yoshimoto’s book was intended for teens. That particular tone, however, appealed more to the part of me that remembers my own childhood with nostalgia than the part that likes to escape to high school experiences I never had. This is a novel about teens for adults then, and I liked that dichotomy.

I was also impressed with Yoshimoto’s minimalist writing style. She created an evocative world with very few words, and I loved getting caught up in her descriptions. For me–a person who hates a congestive narrative–her style was perfect. I could completely visual the town, Tokyo, and the end of summer festival with just the few words she placed on the page. I need to find more writers with her style. I don’t often get swept away into a story, but Goodbye Tsugumi transported me to Japan.

As for the characters, Tsugumi was fascinating. She was crass, selfish, and not someone you’d want to cross. I loved watching her develop throughout the novel. While she didn’t exactly become “good” by the end, she became more herself and less a characterization of what she wanted people to see her as. It’s rare to find a character who’s so likeable and so flawed, but I could read the further adventures of Tsugumi forever and be completely content. Maria and the rest of her family were also given depth in their characterizations, but this truly was Tsugumi’s story and she stole the show.

I truly loved Goodbye Tsugumi overall. It was just the story I needed to break me out of my reading slump, and I’d thoroughly recommend picking it up. It’s a fantastic story of friendship and the end of childhood, and I cannot encourage you to read it enough.    

What books have gotten you out of a reading slump?

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2 thoughts on “{Book Review} Goodbye Tsugumi

  1. I’ve never read anything by Banana Yoshimoto, but the plot sort of reminds me of the graphic novel This One Summer by Mariko & Jillian Tamaki in that they are both set at the end of summer, are about close girlfriends and are sort of young adult books written for grown ups. Will have to check it out.

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