This is not enough, I had thought.
And Death replied:
“But this is what you have.”
The Love We Share Without Knowing is a novel in stories centred around a group of people living in contemporary Japan. Elijah Fulton is a teenager whose family moved to Japan because of his father’s job, and who feels isolated and out of place in his new home. The second story, connected to the first through one of the characters, is about four young people who form a suicide club. The third is about Danny, an American teaching English in Japan who falls in love with another man. The fourth story is about a group of expatiates, and the things that bring them together and the things that keep them apart. I could tell you more, but this is probably enough to give you an idea of what to expect. All the stories are connected, both thematically and because the characters inhabit the periphery of one another’s lives.
The Love We Share Without Knowing is a difficult book to classify. It’s undoubtedly a work of speculative fiction. I’ve seen it compared to Murakami, possibly because it does mix fantasy and reality in a way that is somewhat similar to Murakami’s. But Murakami is, of course, not the only author who does this, and I found The Love We Share Without Knowing quite different in mood and tone.
This novel is filled with things like shape-shifting foxes, old Japanese curses, ghosts, and blind men regaining their sight. But above all it’s filled with beautiful, melancholy stories about grief and loss, love, longing and loneliness, intimacy and connections or the lack thereof. About being alive and feeling all the things that it implies, or not feeling them and wanting to feel them so desperately. About trying to find a place, real or imaginary, that feels like home.
I don’t even know if I should be trying to pinpoint what The Love We Share Without Knowing is about. It’s just a really beautiful book. It’s so human, so full of warmth, so quietly perceptive. It broke my heart and it put it back together again. Not many books achieve this, but Christopher Barzak has done it twice now. When I finished this book, I wanted to laugh and cry; I was both immensely sad and very glad to be alive.
I loved the way the book is structured. I loved figuring out the connections between one chapter/story and the next. As I said, there’s more to it than just the fact that these characters known one another (sometimes just barely, sometimes very well). What matters the most is that they are people of different ages and genders and cultures, people in very different circumstances, who are all feeling more or less similar things. Feeling the love and loneliness and longing we all share without knowing.
The Love We Share Without Knowing is a sad book, but I wouldn’t call it bleak. Suicide is a central element in two of the stories, and all these characters feel lost and alone, but really, when I finished the book I was glad to be alive, even if that sometimes means feeling lost and alone. I loved that the book didn’t try to teach any inspirational lessons, or to propose any miraculous fixes. The point of The Love We Share Without Knowing is not to say, “Look at all these people, quietly going through the same. If only they’d reach out more, everything would be okay”. Maybe it would be, or maybe it wouldn’t. Most likely it would be for some people, but sadly not for others. But whether or not we manage to overcome our silence, or other people’s silence, regardless of how clumsy we are at comforting one another, sometimes just being aware of all the things we share without knowing, of everything that connects us, is a big comfort.
My two favourite chapters were the ones about Danny. The first is about how he meets his lover and how their relationship develops. Then something happens at the end of the story, which I can’t tell you about. But when we meet him next he has been missing for a while, and his mother has come to Japan to take him home. She doesn’t want to talk about what happened because it implies acknowledging that her son was in a relationship with another man. They have a conversation near the end of the story that…wow. It’s just so human, so well-written, so sad. I felt for them. Not just for Danny, but for them both.
The Love We Share Without Knowing joins Paper Towns and Tender Morsels as one of my favourite reads of the year so far. I was looking for other blog reviews of this book, but I couldn’t find any. The fact that there isn’t more blog love for Christopher Barzak makes me sad. I should try to blackmail you all into reading his books. Maybe I could try promising to mail chocolate, bookmarks or puppies to anyone who reads one in the next two months. Okay, sadly I can’t mail you puppies, but the other two…I’d do it.
Anyway, I tried to spread the love last year by giving away a copy of One for Sorrow, and I have the feeling I’ll be doing the same soon with this book. And by “soon” I mean next week, for the Book Giveaway Carnival.
You can read a guest post by Christopher Barzak at John Scalzi’s blog here. (And if being featured in one of John Scalzi's The Big Idea posts is not one of then ten symptoms of awesomeness, then I don't know what is.)
EDIT TO ADD: Another one of the ten symptoms of awesomeness surely has to be offering a copy of The Love We Share Without Knowing to the first ten bloggers who e-mail him. Come on, people! You know you want one.
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