Joyfully I plunged into Bellezzas Japanese Literature Challenge with my first novel Manazuru (dt.: Am Meer ist es wärmer) by Hiromi Kawakami. In former years I already read two of her earlier novels, Der Himmel ist blau, die Erde ist weiß (orig.: Sensei no kaban, engl.: The Teacher’s Briefcase) and Herr Nakano und die Frauen (orig.: Furudogu Nakano Shoten, engl.: The Nakano Thrift Store), both of them I liked very much. Kawakami has a gift to make everday gestures and actions into something very special, I felt at home with her books at once. With Manazuru however, it was a little, no – it was entirely different.
This might result from the very unusual story Hiromi Kawakami told there.
Manazuru is about Kei, a woman living nearby Tokyo, whose husband has disappeared without a trace (no reference to the TV series intended) fifteen years earlier. She has a child from this marriage, her teenage daughter Momo who is sixteen years by this time. Both women are living together with Kei’s mother. Kei is in a relationship with the older man Seiji for some years already. Seiji is nice enough but he is married to another woman with children at home. Instead of this fact bothering her, it seems rather to Kei’s taste, because she isn’t really committing to this relationship.
She is drawn to a particular place by the sea which is called like the book’s title Manazuru to which she returns again and again. Manazuru is a village in the southwest of Tokyo within easy reach of a two hours train ride, but as Gregory McCormick from The Quaterly Conversation put it perfectly, it could be in a different world just as well. Kei suspects the place might reveal the circumstances of her husband Rei’s disappearance. He kept a diary and one of the entries contains the name of that place.
During her trips to Manazuru she is accompanied by someone, Kei refers to as a kind of feminine presence who only she is able to see and communicate with. This woman does not only travel with her but seems to try to give her advice. However, these messages remain very cryptic and leave Kei with difficulties to interpret what the woman tries to show her.
In the meantime Momo, Kei’s dauhter, is in the process of becoming an adult. She starts to cut the cord to home which makes Kei feeling sad and insecure in her role as a mother. So, in many layers of her life there seems to be a process of change.
Altogether I read a book which deals with the long process of saying goodbye and starting afresh which applies as well to Kei as to her daughter Momo. I once again enjoyed Hiromi Kawakami’s writing style very much, the story still remains a little bizarre, though.