26 August 2011

Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto

Brief Synopsis
Typically I don't read two novels by the same author consecutively. However, in the library I couldn't decide which novel to read of Banana Yoshimoto's to read, so I took both and gave in to reading them consecutively. I might have had a different experience withe Goodbye Tsugumi had I not read it immediately after Kitchen. As it is, though, I found Goodbye Tsugumi interesting, but not quite as captivating, focused, or with the same impact as Kitchen. 

I did enjoy this novel. The author explored a number of themes, such as growing up, leaving childhood, reconciling the past and the present, saying goodbye, and working to preserve the moment. However, though these themes are essentially related, I found the book somewhat unfocused. It was a smattering of themes, as though the author had so much to say and only so long to say it. As a result, I found that none of the themes were adequately explored. Some were barely mentioned before the novel moved on from it. 

However, a recurring theme was that of embracing the moment. The narrator, Maria, had returned to the village of her childhood to visit friends for a summer, potentially the last summer she would spend in the village. The novel follows her summer and relationship with her ailing cousin, Tsugumi. Repeatedly, in a variety of memorable moments, Maria longs to have it last forever. However, this novel is not about holding onto the past or reliving moments, it's more about moving on and growing up. The message here is simple: nothing lasts forever.

Tsugumi is chronically ill. As such, her worldview differs from that of her sister, Yoko, and cousin, Maria. For Tsugumi there is only the present. She had little concern for the future. This is potentially due to her frail state; for her there may not be a future. Tsugumi lives fully in the present, giving over to emotions and events completely. The author depicts this as both a positive and negative characteristic. Tsugumi is able to fully embrace all her emotions and has no fear to show them. However, she does not consider consequence to her actions or emotions. She is capable of incredible cruelty, being overly focused on her anger at the moment. Her values or priorities at once seem misaligned, whilst also free.

The book also discusses reconciling the past and present. This summer for Maria is one of returning to a part of her personal history. She revisits the routines and friends of her childhood. Through this summer and this experience she is able to align her past life in the village to her current life in Tokyo. The end of the novel is a hopeful one. Maria is at peace with her life and able to fully enjoy the present.

I did enjoy this novel. If I were to recommend a novel by Banana Yoshimoto, however, I would not recommend this one. This novel was unfocused and I would have enjoyed further exploration of its themes.  That said, I believe Banana Yoshimoto to be a very talented writer and will continue to explore her works.

About the Author
Here is a link to my post on Banana Yoshimoto's Kitchen where I provide a short biography of Banana Yoshimoto.

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