R&R 025 | Goodbye Tsugumi
Translation by Michael Emmerich
First published in 1989
This edition: Grove Press, 2002
Cover design by Charles Rue Woods
Cover photograph by Rebecca Floyd/Graphistock
When reading Hardboiled & Hard Luck earlier this year, I fell in love with Yoshimotoâ€™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 â€“ cousins â€“ living together in a quiet seaside town in Japan. Born to unwed parents, for several years Maria has been sent to live at her auntâ€™s inn with her two cousins: introverted Yoko… and Tsugumi, whose temperamental nature has put a strain on Mariaâ€™s own childhood. Chronically ill ever since she was born, Tsugumiâ€™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 familyâ€™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 Tsugumiâ€™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. Mariaâ€™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 Mariaâ€™s other cousin Yoko would have been included more directly; she was perhaps tyrannized by Tsugumiâ€™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 Tsugumiâ€™s life. But itâ€™s not really his view of Tsugumi and interaction with her which proved to be interesting; apart from Mariaâ€™s account, it was Yokoâ€™s additional point of view that I needed, and missed.
Had Yoshimoto paid more attention to Yokoâ€™s experiences as Tsugumiâ€™s sister, who knew her from beginning to end, Tsugumiâ€™s development would perhaps have been more meaningful. It wasnâ€™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.
R&R series (reviews and photos) Â© 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.