Monday, November 5, 2012

Manazuru by Hiromi Kawakami

I think this may be the first novel I've ever read that was translated from Japanese.  The style is interesting - very lyrical prose, with a lot of the magical realism that is more common in Eastern and South American literature.  While I found the book interesting and was anxious to read to the end to find out what happened, I'm still not sure I know what happened.

Kei is a woman in her mid-forties whose husband disappeared twelve years before the novel takes place, leaving her alone with their 3 year old daughter.  She moves in with her mother, carries on an affair with a married man for about ten years, works as a writer and watches her laughing daughter grow into a moody teenager.  But she doesn't really come to terms with her husband's disappearance.

One day she finds herself in Manazuru, a beachside town and there her memories of the last days with her husband seem to come to life.  But they come to life in the form of various imaginary figures and events who follow her around.  So sometimes it's hard to distinguish the real from the surreal.  Because of the memories the town evokes, she returns several times, once with her daughter, once with her lover and again alone.  Each time more comes back to her - an apparent affair her husband was having, an abortion she had a couple of months after her disappearance and an episode of choking him.  But I can never figure out if she killed her husband or just dreamed of it when she found out about the affair - causing him to bolt.

By the end she does make peace with his disappearance, even visiting with his father and sister who she has not seen in years.  And she seems to move on a bit in her life by ending the affair (actually, ironically it is he, the married man, who ends it because he's jealous of her fixation with her missing husband), writing a novel and learning to appreciate her mother and daughter more.  I was really drawn into the book because of the beautiful writing style and the mysterious storyline, but it was a bit frustrating to put it down without having more answers.

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