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R&R 025 | Goodbye Tsugumi

Banana Yoshimoto
Goodbye Tsugumi
Translation by Michael Emmerich
First published in 1989
This edition: Grove Press, 2002
186 pages
Cover design by Charles Rue Woods
Cover photograph by Rebecca Floyd/Graphistock
Flickr post

When reading Hardboiled & Hard Luck earlier this year, I fell in love with Yoshimoto’s ethereal, gentle prose and her ability to create an almost tangible atmosphere with her words; I wanted to read more of her work. Over the next few months I bought copies of Kitchen, Asleep and Goodbye Tsugumi, the latter of which I will be reviewing here.

In Goodbye Tsugumi, Yoshimoto explores the seemingly fragile relationship between two girls – cousins – living together in a quiet seaside town in Japan. Born to unwed parents, for several years Maria has been sent to live at her aunt’s inn with her two cousins: introverted Yoko… and Tsugumi, whose temperamental nature has put a strain on Maria’s own childhood. Chronically ill ever since she was born, Tsugumi’s insufferable and at times cruel behaviour was just something everyone had to tolerate and endure.

When her parents eventually are able to form a family together with Maria, she leaves for Tokyo, trying to let go of Tsugumi and to become her own person. But as the family’s inn is on the verge of closing, Maria takes Tsugumi up on her offer to spend one last summer together, a summer that will bring forth change: Tsugumi is confronted with caring for someone other than herself. Maria learns to view Tsugumi’s character in a different light, finally understanding that their bond has always been solid, and is now stronger than ever.

There is not a lot of plot going on in this novel, but it is the relationship and its changes which are meant to be researched. Maria’s struggle with her changing feelings for Tsugumi is clear and understandable; the deeper connection between Maria and Tsugumi is convincing and memorable.

I do, however, wish Maria’s other cousin Yoko would have been included more directly; she was perhaps tyrannized by Tsugumi’s nature even more than Maria. Instead of bringing more focus to Yoko, a new character in the form of a young man is brought into Tsugumi’s life. But it’s not really his view of Tsugumi and interaction with her which proved to be interesting; apart from Maria’s account, it was Yoko’s additional point of view that I needed, and missed.

Had Yoshimoto paid more attention to Yoko’s experiences as Tsugumi’s sister, who knew her from beginning to end, Tsugumi’s development would perhaps have been more meaningful. It wasn’t just Maria and Tsugumi growing up together; there was also Yoko.

Her shy and quiet demeanor turned Yoko into an enigma, inaccessible. An unknown, but possibly an invaluable force.

Despite this missing element, there is still a peaceful sort of balance due to the remarkable phrasing, the delicate tale of acceptance and the idyllic descriptions of that Japanese seaside town. Goodbye Tsugumi reads like a beautiful, flowing poem which has put a lump in my throat more than once.

Yoshimoto moves.

4/5

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R&R series (reviews and photos) © Karin Elizabeth.

Edit October 12th 2009: One way or another, I kept reading Tsugami instead of Tsugumi. I don't know why my brains did that, but today I found out that I kept reading and spelling the actual title and name of one of the main characters wrong. I apologize for that.

Karin Elizabeth
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