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N.P.‘ by Banana Yoshimoto was recommended to me by friends who were Yoshimoto fans. One of my friends lent it to me and I read it yesterday. This is the third Yoshimoto book that I have read in the past three months. Isn’t that cool?

The story told in ‘N.P.‘ goes like this. Kazami, the narrator of the story, is a young woman who works in the university. She talks about an author called Sarao Takase whom she discovered years back, because her boyfriend of that time, Shoji, was translating one of Takase’s stories, from the original English to Japanese. There was one volume of Takase’s stories in print at that time, and that contained ninety-seven stories. A ninety-eighth story was discovered recently, and Shoji was translating it. Then, suddenly, Shoji commits suicide. And Kazami discovers that the three people who tried translating the story have all committed suicide. Now, during the present time, Kazami bumps into Takase’s son, while taking a walk during lunchtime. Soon, they become friends. Before long, Takase’s daughter also comes to meet Kazami and they become friends too. And soon a mysterious woman called Sui also crosses Kazami’s path. She seems to be related to the Takases. How these friendships and relationships evolve, who the mysterious Sui is, whether a new translation of Takase’s story is attempted, whether the story claims one more sacrifice – the answers to these questions are told in the rest of the story.

I enjoyed reading ‘N.P.‘ It is the story of a complex friendship between four young people, who are linked together by a mysterious author and his last story. It is also a fascinating love story, though an unconventional one. This book was very different from the other two Yoshimoto stories I had read, because Yoshimoto has really pushed the envelope here, with respect to the unconventional part. Yoshimoto’s prose is spare and glides elegantly through the pages. I read the book in an evening – that is how fast the pages flew by. The book also has some fascinating thoughts on translation which are thought-provoking. The ending of the story is interesting and complicated. Kazami says in the end – “I saw the sky and sea and sand and the flickering flames of the bonfire through my tears. All at once, it rushed into my head at tremendous speed, and made me feel dizzy. It was beautiful. Everything that had happened was shockingly beautiful, enough to make you crazy.” You have to read the book to find out why she says that.

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“A person without a voice gradually loses language. For the first two days, my thought processes remained the same as before. If my sister stepped on my foot, I would think “ouch” in words. When a place I had been to before appeared in TV, my thoughts would virtually be in the same form as the words might have come out of my mouth at that moment, had I been able to speak – like, “Oh, I know where that is. I wonder when they filmed this,” or something like that.
But after a period of being unable to speak those words, something changed in my head. I came to see the array of colors that lay behind words. When my sister was being nice to me, I perceived a brilliant image of pink light. My mother’s words and gestures when she was teaching us English were gold; a bright yellow orange cane through the palm of my hand when I bent down to pat our cat as she wandered by.
Living like that utterly convinced me of the extreme limitations of language. I was just a child then, so I had only an intuitive understanding of the degree to which one loses control of words once they are spoken or written. It was then that I first felt a deep curiosity about language, and understood it as a tool that encompasses both a single moment and eternity.”

“Time stopped. Perhaps God in his grace glanced down upon us then. It was that peaceful, for an eternal moment, in the valley of the night…When I thought about that moment later, in the light of day, it didn’t seem so monumental. But when it came upon me, the touch of darkness was undeniably vast and pure.”

Have you read Banana Yoshimoto’sN.P.‘? What do you think about it?

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