Feb 25, 2009

The Love We Share Without Knowing by Christopher Barzak

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.

Other Opinions:
Melissa's Bookshelf

Becky's Book Reviews
My Cozy Book Nook
Medieval Bookworm
The Written World


  1. You don't have to send me any chocolate - I've ordered a copy already! I love Murakami, and Japanese culture, so I'm looking forward to my copy arriving - thank you for the great review!

  2. I read (and loved) his first book. I didn't realize there was a second book out already. I'll have to keep a watch out for it...or cross my fingers and hope I win it in your giveaway :)

  3. Wow - that was a beautiful review. I'w with farmlanebooks - I'm ordering a copy right this instant.

  4. Loved your review. It sounds like this book really touched you. I have been looking for something that is a little more tender and meaningful in my reads lately, will have to check this one out. Thanks!

  5. Oh Nymeth, another beautiful, beautiful review! You have me aching to just go order it right now...and I just might. :) And I absolutely love the title of this book.

  6. This is the post I have been waiting for..seriously! I received a review copy of this book a couple of months ago and I know I should have read it by now, but I didn't get inspired enough to pick it up! your review was beautiful and has definitely made me want to pick it up immediately! Watch out for my review soon!:)

  7. This one sounds amazing and I'll be tracking it down at some stage. A beautiful review, Nymeth.

  8. This is an author I've never heard of before. It sounds interesting. I wish there was less sadness but this book is truly something to consider. Thanks.. :D

  9. "This novel is filled with things like shape-shifting foxes, old Japanese curses, ghosts, and blind men regaining their sight..."

    sold! don't need to know any more:P

  10. You've made this book sound wonderful. Great review.

  11. Farmelanebooks: yay :D

    Becky, I think you'll enjoy this one too. Wishing you luck in the giveaway!

    Nely: double yay :D

    Zibilee, it did touch me a lot.

    Debi: I'm all for people buying his books, but you can try the giveaway next week first :P I love the title too. And it fits the book.

    Ramya, I'm happy to hear you'll be reading and reviewing it! I can't wait to read your thoughts on it.

    Cath, thank you!

    Claire: It's sad, but in a gentle, tender way that also makes you smile.

    Valentina: Reading this alongside Death Note last week made me have some weird but interesting Japanese folklore inspired dreams :P

    bermudaonion, thanks! I really found it wonderful.

  12. Your review really made me want to read this. It sounds wonderful and I just LOVE the title, it's so beautiful and sad.

  13. Terrific review! This sounds like a must read!! Thanks.

  14. I love the whole novel-in-stories thing, and this one sounds great! The title's particularly awesome. :D

  15. it does sound interesting, wonderful review :)
    'It broke my heart and it put it back together again.'-beautifully stated, and I do know what you mean.

    I'm adding Christopher Barzak to my TBR, and you don't have to mail me a puppy lol.


  16. This book is right up my alley. Thanks for the review...

  17. "I don’t even know if I should be trying to pinpoint what The Love We Share Without Knowing is about." <--- Love books like this :) Glad you enjoyed it so much!!!

  18. Beautiful review, Nymeth!
    I'm so captivated by your lovely review and the wonderful premise of the book that I'm going to add it to my wishlist... and after what you've sold me on Tender Morsels!!! ;)

  19. I don't know how I've never come across your blog before, it's wonderful! I saw Becky's link to this in her blog and made my way over here. I also managed to win a copy that he was giving away--woohoo!

    Anywho, just waned to thank you for the review and let you know I'm now an avid reader/follower/subscriber, etc. :-D

  20. Aaah, you bad blogger indeed!!! Maybe Chris should put up a separate Bad Blogger badge for you!!! Kidding!!!

    This sounds wonderful indeed! I can't thank you enough for introducing Christopher Barzak to me awhile ago (well, in the bookish sense, hahaha) and now I have to long for this. Argh!!!

    And Japan! In Japan! Oh my God! Ooops, sorry. I just have this crazy love for almost-anything Japanese. My friends call it a "Japanese Phase" but it's been there for years so phase isn't exactly apt.

  21. Nymeth, seriously. What an endorsement! It helps that my attention was fully captured by the exquisite title. I just ordered it!

  22. Hey thanks so much for that list of short stories on the side ofyour blog. Perfect day for Banana fish (actually all of 9 stories) is amazing so I will have to check out the rest!!

  23. You inspired a giveaway! That's so cool!

    I've added both books to my Paperspine queue.

  24. Nymeth,
    What an absolutely beautiful review of an absolutely beautiful book! Your words were so descriptive of The Love We Share Without Knowing. The message this book shares with the reader is so well stated in your review. You don't know me but I had to comment on your review. You see I am Chris's mom and I thank you for such kind words on his work. Sending you a hug long-distance.

  25. Ok, was this book written specifically for me? It seems to have everything I love in a book. Just reading your review had me feeling emotional. I can't wait to read it. I love that line that shared at the beginning of the post and the title is just amazing. And hello! You got mad props on Barzak's blog!! Glad to have found that post. I'm now subscribed to him!

  26. wow, this particular books sounds amazing and Christopher Barzak sounds like an author definitely worth reading. I was too late for his giveaway, but I'll try yours next week and if I don't win I'll be off to the bookstore!

  27. I am definitely putting this book on mt "to read" list

    As always, thank-you for this great review Ana

  28. This sounds absolutely wonderful! And just the kind of thing that appeals to me. I'm kinda sad I missed the chance to get a review copy from Christopher himself but it's gone straight onto my wish list.

  29. I really like the sound of this book. I will add it to my TBR list.

  30. There you go again ... writing a review that will have me adding to my TBR tower! Great review :o)
    The Murakami similarity has me intrigued.

  31. Alexa: It really is. And it fits the book perfectly!

    Beth, I'm glad you liked my review :) Definitely a must read for me.

    Eva: I love it too, especially when done well - which it is in this case!

    Naida: lol! Let me know if you want some chocolate, though :P

    Michelle, I hope you enjoy it!

    Ladytink, I love them too :)

    Melody: You can always try your luck with my giveaway next week!

    Melissa: Thank you so much :D Yours is new to me as well. I'm glad to hear you got one of the review copies!

    Lightheaded: You're most welcome! I was happy when you won because I knew you'd love it. And I think you'll love this just as much, if not more. I honestly can't decide which one's my favourite.

    Amy: yay! I actually thought of you when reading it, because of your recent post about your time in Japan.

    Padfoot and Prongs: You're welcome :D I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

    Softdrink: I hope you love them both!

    Joyce, thank you so much for stopping by. You have an incredibly talented son.

    Chris: You'll love it; I just know you will! His blog is awesome, and I'm not just saying this because he was so nice to me :P I subscribe too!

    Joanna: Yes, do try mine!

    tanabata: You can try my giveaway next week too! I think you'll really enjoy this book. And living in Japan yourself, I'm sure you'll get a lot of cultural nuances that I missed.

    Scrap Girl and Terri B: I hope you both enjoy it. He's different from Murakami in many ways, but I can see where the comparison comes from.

  32. Nymeth, I can always count on coming to your blog and finding a review of a novel I would normally never have known about but now know I have to have. Thanks for a great review of a book that so obviously touched you.

  33. Wow. I'm convinced that no matter what I may be doing, when I get this book I will drop everything to start reading. Thanks for another fabulous review Nymeth.

  34. Just read and really enjoyed this one. Not sure how I missed it when you reviewed it way back when. :)


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.