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Manazuru by Hiromi Kawakami


by Hiromi Kawakami

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Beautiful prose. Story was darker than I expected, and a tad confusing. Enjoyed it mostly for the prose, not much for the plot.
  deadgirl | Apr 29, 2015 |
Public library copy

Rei is a woman whose husband disappeared without a trace several years ago. Rei has tried to make a life for herself and her daughter, Momo, who was a young child when the man disappeared. Rei and Momo, now a somewhat sullen teenager, live with Rei's mother. The novel is in the first person singular with Rei as the narrator. It is not clear if Rei is relating memories, dreams, or hallucinations.

Rei is continually drawn to the seaside town Manazuru where she thinks she will experience something that will jog a vague memory. She continually feels that she is being followed or accompanied by "something," perhaps a woman. She goes on walks and the woman goes along sometimes in silence, other times there is talking; or is it an interior dialog Rei is having with herself?

Through this haze of confusion, there are moments of reality. Rei's exchanges with her lover, her mother, and her daughter seem real. Her description of her visit to her in-laws when they set up a shrine to her lost husband seems lucid. However, we wonder: is her lover, actually with her for part of that trip? The sequence concerning the paperwork Rei goes through to have her husband declared dead seems harshly real. In fact, it seems it may bring Rei's life back to reality.

I liked this novel with its rich, dreamy language. The contrast between what is going on in Rei's mind and the face she presents to the world is an intriguing look into the mental condition of a very disturbed woman. ( )
  seeword | Jan 15, 2015 |
My introduction to the work of Hiromi Kawakami was through the annual literary journal Monkey Business: New Writing from Japan which regularly features her short fiction. In fact, her quirky series of vignettes, "People from My Neighborhood," is one of the recurring selections that I most look forward to from issue to issue. Recently I was reminded that some of her long form work had also been translated, most notable her award-winning novels The Briefcase and Manazuru. Of the two, Manazuru was the first to be released in English. The novel, originally published in Japan in 2006, was selected for the Japanese Literary Publishing Project and has also been translated into several other languages, including French, German, and Russian. Michael Emmerich's English translation of Manazuru was published by Counterpoint Press in 2010 and received a Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize. Manazuru was also very well received in Japan; Kawakami was awarded an Art Encouragement Prize from the Ministry of Education for the novel's literary achievements.

Over a decade ago, Kei Yanagimoto's husband Rei disappeared without a trace. No one seems to know what happened to him or where he went, why he abandoned Kei and their three-year-old daughter Momo, or if he is alive or dead. But life continues on for Kei. She and Momo now live together with her aging mother and she's even having an affair with Seiji, a married man she met through her work as a freelance writer. But she still misses Rei tremendously and she feels his absence daily. As Momo grows older and matures she becomes more distant and Kei is afraid that she may lose her daughter as well. Kei has yet to come to terms with Rei's disappearance and struggles to remember and to forget at the same time. When Kei discovers "Manazuru" written in a diary that Rei left behind she finds herself compelled to return to that seaside town again and again, chasing after some sort of long-lost memory. Manazuru holds meaning for Kei, for her past and for her future, if only she can open herself to discover it.

Manazuru is a poetic and atmospheric novel with a touch of the surreal. The narrative is told entirely from Kei's perspective in an almost stream-of-conscious fashion as she moves from moment to moment in her life and from memory to memory. There is an intense sense of longing present in Manazuru. It is very clear that Kei loves and adores Rei. His disappearance is difficult for Kei to accept but even more difficult is not knowing the reasons why he is gone; Kei's internal self is understandably in turmoil. As the novel progresses, and as Kei searches her very soul for answers and remembers more and more about herself and about her husband, what is real and what is imagined begin to increasingly blur together. Kei's perception of the truth unravels and frays, lending a dreamlike quality to Manazuru, only to be woven together again as she forms a new understanding and acceptance of everything that has passed.

Overall, Manazuru is quiet, ethereal, and melancholic. The slow and subdued drive of the novel comes almost exclusively from Kei's thoughts and feelings rather than from outside of herself. More than it is about an action-heavy plot, Manazaru is about Kei's relationship with and to others, especially her family and her lover, but that doesn't mean that the novel is lacking in drama. Kei's mother never liked Rei to begin with; Momo starts to look more and more like her father; Seiji is Rei's complete opposite, but that only serves to repeatedly remind Kei of her husband. Although Rei is missing, he is very much the largest presence in Kei's life, a shadow that haunts her and that obscures the people around her. The more Kei tries to remember the more she forgets and the more she tries to forget the more she remembers. Manazuru is a meditation on memory, loss, and letting go. It's a beautifully poignant and moving work.

Experiments in Manga ( )
  PhoenixTerran | Jan 14, 2015 |
Kawakami's first novel to be translated into English is something of a feint. An almost catatonically narrated novel that belies the narrator's profound, endlessly bleak attitude towards life.

She (unnamed) has lost a husband, mysteriously, some ten years ago. He has disappeared; nobody can find him, and nobody is looking for him anymore. She lives with her mother and her teenaged daughter in a small house, and is conducting an affair with a tender but distant married man. All her relationships seems stuck in a sort of neutral gear, her existence is moorless, almost ghost-like. And indeed, she does start to see ghosts. First a snarky woman who she begins a rapport with. And then: what she has wanted all along, she begins to see the ghost of her husband. The ghosts seem to appear most vividly in the desolate out-of-season resort town of Manazuru.

I found the novel to be alternately appealing and deadening. Nothing much happens externally - though the narrator does affect a pretty profound change internally. Ultimately though, it's power lies in its quietness, I think, in it's deadness. Fans of Yoko Ogawa or Banana Yoshimoto (like me!) would probably find a lot to like here. It's more distant than their work though, more aloof and mysterious. ( )
1 vote kougogo | Dec 27, 2010 |
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Jemand folgte mir.
Ob es ein Mann oder eine Frau war, ließ sich nicht ausmachen. Noch zu weit weg. Und wenn schon. Ich ging weiter.
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"Twelve years have passed since Kei's husband, Rei, disappeared and she was left alone with her three-year-old daughter. Her new relationship with a married man--the antithesis of Rei--has brought her life to a numbing stasis, and her relationships with her mother and daughter have spilled into routine, day after day. Kei begins making repeated trips to the seaside town of Manazuru, a place that jogs her memory to a moment in time she can never quite locate. Her time there by the water encompasses years of unsteady footing and a developing urgency to find "something." Through a poetic style embracing the surreal and grotesque, a quiet tenderness emerges from these dark moments. "Manazuru" is a meditation on memory--a profound, precisely delineated exploration of the relationships between lovers and family members. Both startlingly restless and immaculately compact, "Manazuru" paints the portrait of a woman on the brink of her own memories and future"--Publisher description.… (more)

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