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Posts Tagged ‘Goodbye Tsugumi’

So what do you do after reading one Banana Yoshimoto book? You read another Banana Yoshimoto book 🙂 That is what I did! I read ‘Goodbye Tsugumi‘. This book came out in Japanese in 1989 – that was in a really different era. This is the third book I read for Women in Translation Month.

The story told in ‘Goodbye Tsugumi‘ goes like this. Maria lives with her mother, aunt and uncle, and two cousins, Yōko and Tsugumi, in a seaside town. Her aunt and uncle run an inn there, and tourists generally come and stay in their inn during summer. Maria’s father lives in Tokyo. He is right now involved in a divorce battle with his first wife. Once things are finalized on that front, he hopes to take Maria and her mother to Tokyo so that they can live together as a family. Maria, Yōko and Tsugumi are close friends, but are very different from each other. Yōko is the nice person, the angel. Tsugumi is the sharp-tongued one. But there is something about Tsugumi. She has a permanent health condition. She falls ill frequently. She hides her physical vulnerability behind her sharp tongue. But behind that sharp-tongued girl, there is a strong person who is fearless, and who has a heart of gold. One day Maria’s father arrives and says that everything has been resolved and Maria and her mother can now come and live with him in Tokyo. Maria and her mother move out. Maria starts going to college. One day Tsugumi calls her and says that her parents are going to sell off the inn and this would be their last summer there. She invites Maria to come and spend that summer with them. Maria accepts. That summer, the last one, turns out to be unforgettable. What happens during that summer forms the rest of the story.

I loved ‘Goodbye Tsugumi‘. Tsugumi is one of the great characters – her sharp tongue, not showing respect for anyone, her readiness to fight for a good cause and go to any extent for it, her sense of humour and her love for pranks, and the way she goes to all lengths to make a prank look real, the way she goes beyond her physical limitations and pain and tries to live life to the full – it is beautiful and inspiring to watch. Yōko is wonderful and one of the nicest people one can meet within the pages of a book. This book is such a beautiful love letter to the joy of friendships. The friendships between Maria and Tsugumi, and Maria and Yōko are beautifully portrayed in the book – they are very different and each friendship is unique in its own way. Kyōichi appears a little later in the book and his relationship to Tsugumi which borders between friendship and love is also wonderfully portrayed in the book. Banana Yoshimoto’s prose flows so smoothly that the pages just fly. I finished reading the book in a day which rarely happens for me.

Most of the story is set in the seaside town and I loved the descriptions of the sea and its surroundings. It made me think of some of my favourite descriptions of the sea. To tempt you with more, I’m giving below a description of the sea from this book and from another of my favourite books, ‘Promise at Dawn‘ by Romain Gary. Do tell me which one you like more.

From ‘Goodbye Tsugumi‘ by Banana Yoshimoto

“It’s a marvelous thing, the ocean. For some reason when two people sit together looking out at it, they stop caring whether they talk or stay silent. You never get tired of watching it. And no matter how rough the waves get, you’re never bothered by the noise the water makes or by the commotion of the surface – it never seems too loud, or too wild…the ocean had always been there, in the good times as well as the bad times of my life, when it was sweltering out and the beach was filled with people, and in the dead of winter when the sky was heavy with stars…it remained just as it was, fanning out around the edge of our town and zooming quietly off into the distance, the tide rising and falling just as it always did, no matter what…And it seemed to me that even if you weren’t actively letting your emotions ride its surface, the ocean still went on giving you something, teaching you some sort of lesson.”

From ‘Promise at Dawn‘ by Romain Gary

“My first contact with the sea was unforgettable. I had never met anything or anybody, except my mother, who had a more profound effect on me. I am unable to think of the sea as a mere “it” – for me she is the most living, animated, expressive, meaningful, living thing under the sun. I know that she carries the answer to all our questions, if only we could break her coded message, understand what she tries persistently to tell us. Nothing can really happen to me as long as I can let myself fall on some ocean shore. Its salt is like a taste of eternity to my lips. I love it deeply and completely, and it is the only love which gives me peace.”

So which one do you like more? Is it Banana Yoshimoto or Romain Gary? Do share your thoughts.

In a story like this in which the lead character has a permanent health condition, the inevitable happens in the end and the dreaded phone call arrives. As the narrator picks up the phone, and the author pauses with her pen hovering over paper, contemplating on the fate of her lead character, our heart leaps from joy to heartbreak, from agony to ecstasy, as we go through the whole spectrum of emotions, and we hope and pray that the author decides to do the right thing and saves us from heartbreak. What happens at the other end of the phone call? I am not going to tell you that, of course. You have to read the book and find out.

I’ll leave you with two more of my favourite passages from the book.

“Love is the kind of thing that’s already happening by the time you notice it, that’s how it works, and no matter how old you get, that doesn’t change. Except that you can break it up into two entirely distinct types – love where there’s an end in sight and love where there isn’t. People in love understand that better than anyone. When there’s no end in sight, it means you’re headed for something huge.”

“This world of ours is piled high with farewells and goodbyes of so many different kinds, like the evening sky renewing itself again and again from one instant to the next – and I didn’t want to forget a single one.”

Well, that’s it 🙂 I loved ‘Goodbye Tsugumi‘. It is one of my favourite books of the year. I want to read more Banana Yoshimoto now. ‘Kitchen‘ and ‘N.P.‘ are recommended by every Yoshimoto fan I know. I am hoping to read them soon.

Have you read ‘Goodbye Tsugumi‘? What do you think about it? Which is your favourite Banana Yoshimoto book?

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