Nov 3, 2008

Goodbye, Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto

“From the time she was born Tsugumi was ridiculously frail, and she had a whole slew of ailments and defects. Her doctors announced that she would die young, and her family began preparing for the worst. Of course everyone around her spoiler her like you wouldn’t believe. Her mother carted her around to hospitals all across Japan, not sparing any effort, offering up every ounce of her strength to try and extend Tsugumi’s life even just a little. And so as Tsugumi toddled her unsteady way towards adulthood, she developed a personality that was just as pushy and insolent as it could be.”
The narrator of this story is Maria, Tsugumi’s cousin. Despite Tsugumi’s unpleasant personality, the two grow to be very close friends. Goodbye, Tsugumi is the story of the last summer they spend at the seaside town where they were born and grew up. Maria returns after having moved to Tokyo with her family, and Tsugumi is stoon to leave because her parents are going to sell their inn and open a pension in the mountains.

It’s not surprising, given the title, that this story is about saying goodbye in several different ways. Goodbye, Tsugumi is filled with bittersweet nostalgia and with a deep awareness of the passage of time. Look at this passage, for example:
Summer was coming. Yes, summer was about to begin. A season that would come and go only once, and never return again. All of us understood that very well, and yet we would probably just pass our days the way we always had. And this made the tickling of time feel slightly more tense than in the old days, infused it with a hint of distress. We could all feel this as we sat there that evening, together. We could feel it so clearly that it made us sad, and yet at the same time we were extremely happy.
But there are, of course, issues other than the summer coming to an end at stake in this story. There’s growing up, and becoming distant from people who once filled your whole life. And there’s mortality, as Tsugumi’s frail health makes her, and those who surround her, deeply aware of death, and constantly unsure of whether each passing day will be her last.

So what Goodbye, Tsugumi is is a lovely book about vulnerability and change. And despite the fact that one of the main characters is a teenager who might not live to see another year, the result is not nearly as bleak as you’d expect. But worry not, it’s also not artificially optimistic or cheerful – the tone is absolutely perfect.

I think my favourite thing about Goodbye, Tsugumi was the narrator’s voice. Maria sounds so intimate and nostalgic. Sometimes she’s funny, sometimes she sounds sad, and she’s always so insightful and sincere. There isn’t all that much of a plot to this book, but unlike what can sometime happen with more character-oriented novels, this one isn't slow-going in the least. I read it for the read-a-thon and I think it was a perfect choice. The focus of the story is the characters, their relationships and how they change, but it’s told in a way that keeps you eagerly turning the pages until the end.

This might sound odd, but the tone of Goodbye, Tsugumi reminded me a little of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne books. And I mean this as a compliment, of course. Reading this book made me forget all about my previous disappointing experience with Banana Yoshimoto. So Kitchen, here I come.

One more memorable passage:
Right around the time when the hustle and bustle of preparations for the festival take a hold of the town, all of a sudden you find yourself noticing that autumn had begun to weave itself into the rhythm of your days. The sun is still just as strong as before, but the breeze blowing in off the sea has turned just the tiniest bit softer, and the sand has cooled. Now the rain that quietly drenches the boats ranges along the beach carries the damp, misty smell of a cloudy sky. You realize that summer has turned its back on you.

Other Blog Reviews:
Biblio File
Katrina's Reads
Ready When You Are
Melody's Reading Corner
Fluttering Butterflies

(Let me know if I missed yours.)


  1. hey nymeth.. that looks like an interesting book! never heard of the book or the author but it sounds like something i might be interested in reading! thanks!

  2. I loved Kitchen, and your lovely review makes me think I would like Goodbye, Tsugumi, too. Thanks for your thoughtful review.

  3. This book sounds interesting! And I love the cover too. I don't read a lot of Japanese literature but I'm beginning to appreciate them, especially after reading Natsuo Kirino's novels and some of the other authors. Thanks for recommending this author to me, Nymeth! Now I've another new author to look out for. :)

  4. I've heard so much about this book and the reviews seem to be mixed. But I think that I'd have a similar reaction to yours with this one. I'll hop it onto the wishlist! I've been loving Japanese literature lately...there's just something about their stories that is so serene and just perfect.

  5. Great review! I've been meaning to read a book by her for ages, but haven't gotten to it yet. Is this one a good one to start with, do you think? (Clearly not Rainbow!) Maybe I'll wait till you vet Kitchen for me! :-)

  6. I haven't read Rainbow, but I've read a lot of Yoshimoto and loved almost all of them! Goodbye Tsugumi (just "tsugumi" in the japanese version) and Kitchen were both my favourites; I read them in both English and Japanese. Another of my favourites is "Asleep", which is a short story collection.

  7. This is the first time I come across this and I might catch it one of these days. Thanks for the great review. That was a memorable passage you included at the end of the review.

  8. Great review, as usual. I've never heard of this author, but I'm always looking for good Japanese literature. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Diary of an Eccentric

  9. Oh, this does sound good. I have it but didn't remember what it was about. LOL. I suppose I should read it one of these days! :P

  10. Oh, but this does sound perfectly lovely. You introduce me to so many books that I don't think I would ever hear of otherwise, Nymeth. And that deserves a huge THANK YOU!

  11. I read this over the summer and enjoyed it. I keep meaning to search out Kitchen. My reveiw is here:

  12. Ramya: From what I hear she is quite popular among fans of Japanese literature. I hope you enjoy her work :)

    Charley, you're welcome! I really look forward to reading Kitchen.

    Melody: I like the cover a lot too; so simple and so elegant. As for Japanese lit, the more I read it the more I like it!

    Chris, I do think you'd enjoy this one. And you're right about the stories being serene...that was the case with this book, even though some of the themes were dark and heavy ones.

    Darla: Yes, I wouldn't recommend Rainbow :P But this one seems like a great starting point to me!

    Marineko: I always wished I could ask someone this: do you notice a very big difference between the books in English and in Japanese? I always wonder when I read Murakami, for example, how much I'm missing because of the translation.

    Alice: I loved it too :) The book is full of memorable passages like that.

    Anna: You're welcome! I hope you enjoy it :)

    tanabata: lol, that has happened to me too :P

    Debi: That's what book bloggers are for :P I have you and others to thank for the exact same!

    Katrina, thanks for the link! I'm glad you enjoyed it too.

  13. Sounds intersting, another one I hadn't heard of before. hanks for the Anne reminder, must check out those books at some point.

  14. This sounds like an emotional read. I like the quotes you chose, especially that second one.
    Great review!

  15. I need to check my shelves and see if I have this book. I read one of her books last year, N.P., and thought it was strange yet I feel like I need to read more. This one sounds very good so I do hope I have it :)

  16. I also have this book and haven't read it yet. My favorite is Kitchen, for some reason I really liked it.

  17. Very interesting premise, the idea of knowing someone will be passing soon would make for some very emotionally charged character interactions. It sounds like it was beautifully written, I loved the second passage.

  18. Glad that you finally read a Yoshimoto book that you loved! I'm sure you'll enjoy Kitchen as well. It's my favorite Yoshimoto by far.

  19. Rhinoa, I hope you enjoy them. They're very different from the stuff I normally read, and I think that like me you tend to prefer darker stories. But the Anne books are an exception.

    Naida, the writing is just lovely, isn't it?

    Iliana: That's how I felt about my first book by her...I couldn't make up my mind about her. But I'm really glad I gave her another chance.

    Madeleine, I'm really looking forward to that one!

    Joanne, it was emotional, but in a quiet sort of way that, like Chris pointed out, you tend to find in Japanese lit.

    Lightheaded: I think I'll love it too!

  20. Hmm, for Yoshimoto, especially in the case of "Kitchen", the translation is pretty much spot on. Of course there were things that were difficult to translate, and did not follow the original 100%, but the translation didn't take away the simple, fresh way she wrote.

    Murakami is a lot more difficult to read than Yoshimoto, and I've only read "Norwegian Wood" in japanese (being the easiest to read of his books, I think), but if my japanese is much stronger I'd probably try to read all of his books in Japanese, because sometimes there are subtle "between-the-lines" things that doesn't quite translate, and also I heard that in the case of many of his novels, portions were cut out of the English translation (especially in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, where I heard entire chapters were cut). I didn't notice that with Norwegian Wood much.

    Another thing about reading Murakami in Japanese is that his style struck me as very "Westernised". This is interesting because his style seemed very "Japanese" when I read him in English. Yet, I don't think it's a fault in translation. I think that he has enough of both that in each language, the other part becomes more "alien" and stands out, I guess.

  21. Marineko, thank you so much for taking the time to reply. You know, that's more or less what I suspected about Murakami. I had no idea chapters had been cut from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, though! I feel cheated now :P But yeah, I know what you mean about Murakami's style seeming Japanese in English, and it's interesting that in Japanese it's the other way around!

  22. One of my coworkers is a big fan of Banana Yoshimoto. I wonder if she's had a chance to read this one yet. It sounds like a good one. Thanks for the great review!

  23. I remember seeing this name when I was looking up books for the Japanese challenge--how can one forget the name Banana! But I haven't really seen anything about the actual books. You write "it’s told in a way that keeps you eagerly turning the pages until the end." My kind of book! Sounds like a beautiful and touching story--I'll have to keep my eye open for it (I've been slacking on my Japanese reads lately...)

  24. I enjoyed Kitchen and Asleep, so I'm glad that this sounds like a good book too. I'll try to get hold of a copy soon.


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