Title: The Lake
Author: Banana Yoshimoto
Published: Originally 2005, Japanese, Foil Co. Ltd. / 2011, English Translation, Melville House Publishing
Recognized: 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize Shortlist
Source: Public Library
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
I read this as part of the Japanese Literature Challenge hosted by Dolce Bellezza.
Book Description from Goodreads:
It tells the tale of a young woman who moves to Tokyo after the death of her mother, hoping to get over her grief and start a career as a graphic artist. She finds herself spending too much time staring out her window, though...until she realizes she’s gotten used to seeing a young man across the street staring out his window, too.
They eventually embark on a hesitant romance, until she learns that he has been the victim of some form of childhood trauma. Visiting two of his friends who live a monastic life beside a beautiful lake, she begins to piece together a series of clues that lead her to suspect his experience may have had something to do with a bizarre religious cult. . . .
With its echoes of the infamous, real-life Aum Shinrikyo cult (the group that released poison gas in the Tokyo subway system), The Lake unfolds as the most powerful novel Banana Yoshimoto has written. And as the two young lovers overcome their troubled past to discover hope in the beautiful solitude of the lake in the countryside, it’s also one of her most moving.
Banana Yoshimoto's ability to hone in on the depth of her main characters is quite a gift. The protagonist, Chihiro, having grown up in the countryside in Japan is an interesting result of her upbringing and her temperament. She, like her mother, consisted of "two selves that came and went inside her. One was sociable and upbeat, a woman of the world who lived in the moment and seemed like a really cool person to be around; the other was extremely delicate, like a big, soft flower nodding gently on its stem, looking as if the slightest breeze would scatter its petals. The flowerlike side wasn't easy to recognize, and my mom, always eager to please, tried hard to cultivate the feisty, easygoing side of her personality. Watering IT, rather than the flower, with lots of love, fertilizing it with people's approval." I loved how Chihiro struggled to find the balance between her desire for independence and her need to be in the company of one she loved. Another favorite trait of hers was that of a humble mural painter/artist in which she stalwartly sticks to her vision versus commercialism.
Chihiro shares her young adult life with Nakajima, initially a new aquaintance from an apartment nearby. Nakajima is a young man, emotionally withdrawn and very intelligent, with baggage from his past. "...as beautiful as the world was, none of it was powerful enough to take the weight off his heart, that heaviness that dragged him down, into the beyond, making him yearn to be at peace." Both Chihiro and Nakajima are slow and cautious toward the relationship, precariously appreciating having found each other. "We'd taken our time turning toward each other, from our two windows, piling each little moment on the next until, deep in our hearts, something clicked. And so the surface remained unruffled." As a reader, I could feel the strong unspoken waves of emotional support on behalf of each character. Together, although not always confident in the outcome, they worked at supporting each other. I have to point out one small, awkward reference that just didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the story; In reference to Nakajima sleeping with his deceased mother's old wire rice cake rack under his arm, Chihiro states, "You've got the hard version of Linus' blanket." (I didn't realize that Charles Schultz's Peanuts characters were that internationally renowned). I'm so glad that I read this book, and would love to hear your recommendations for other great books by Banana Yoshimoto.
"This is what it means to be loved...when someone wants to touch you, to be tender...My body knows not to respond to fake love. I guess maybe that's what it means to have been brought up well."
"People look so beautiful when their expressions show that they know they have a future."
"Here we are, two ridiculously fragile people, sliding along on a very thin layer of ice all the time, each of us ready to slip and take the other down at any moment, the most unsteady of couples--and yet I believed what I had said. It would be all right."
"And when it occurred to me that being that way really wasn't going to help me get through the rest of my life, I realized that from now on, my mom's life and mine would have to be completely, unmistakably different...something flashed in my mind when I discovered that feeling inside me: So this is what it means to grow up."
"At last, a faint sense of confidence dropped anchor inside me."
[Chihiro describing her mural to Nakajima] "No one else knows what it means, but that doesn't matter--it's a happy world. No one can destroy that heppiness. People will see this wall without having any idea what it means, and then eventually it will be knocked down, and it won't exist anymore. But deep down in people's subconscious, this happy group of monkeys, all of you, will still be there, just a little."
For a Q&A with Banana Yoshimoto,
click on link below: