Book Review: The Lake

Author: Banana Yoshimoto

Translated by: Michael Emmerich

Publisher: Melville House, 2011 (Originally published in Japanese by Foil Company, 2005

Genre: Japanese Literature

Format: E-Reader

Source: The publisher

My Rating: B

Summary of the story:

When I joined the Japanese Reading Challenge I wanted to read something by Banana Yoshimoto. Numerous reviewers praised the brillance of her work. When the publisher offered a review copy of this book, I immediately said yes.

The story is about a young woman, Chihiro, whose mother has recently died. She moves to Tokyo where she hopes to start a new life, although she is still mourning the loss of her mother.

Chihiro notices a young man standing in the window of an apartment across the street from her. Day after day they see each other and gradually become acquainted.  After meeting the young man, Nakajima, on the street, they become friends.

Slowly, a romance develops. Chihiro gradually realizes that Nakajima has experienced some kind of childhood trauma. She’s not sure if it was physical abuse or something psychological. When Nakajima takes Chihiro to visit friends who live beside a beautiful lake, she begins to understand the mystery.

Both Chihiro and Nakajima have suffered pain as children. As they fall deeper in love we see how their love has the power to heal them both.

My thoughts:

The story came to me, the reader, from Chihiro’s point of view. She narrates the story in a very conversational voice. It’s as if she is chatting with me, telling me about what has happened and what she is thinking and how she is feeling about it.

One part that really interested me was Chihiro’s work as a graphic artist. Her specialty is painting large murals on the sides of buildings. During part of the story she is working on a mural at a children’s center. I found it interesting to hear of how the picture just sort of developed in her head and on the side of the building. Also interesting was the politics involved in the picture. For instance, we wonder if the mural will save the building from demolition. And, what about putting the sponsor’s logo in a prominent place in the picture as he has requested?

Overall, I was fascinated with this book. It was, however, rather dark at times. It was certainly more mysterious than the stories I normally read. I wasn’t exactly sure what to think about the people at the lake. They felt otherworldly or as if they were part of some strange cult. Were they evil? I didn’t get it until the end.

I enjoyed Banana Yoshimoto’s beautiful writing, even if her story is dark. A nod should also be given to the translator who did a great job using comparable idioms and modern slang in English.

Can I recommend? Yes. I think most of you who appreciate good literature will enjoy this side trip into Japanese literature.

Check your local library or your local bookstore for copies of this book. The Lake is also available at Amazon. (I am an Amazon Associate.) If you decide to purchase the book, you should know that a portion of the proceeds will go to the Japan Disaster Relief Fund.

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7 Responses to Book Review: The Lake

  1. JoAnn says:

    Most of your thoughts on this book could also apply to Kitchen, the one book by Yoshimoto that I have read. Think it’s time for me to try another. Thanks!

  2. Every single Japanese book I’ve read has been dark! I don’t know if that’s just a reflection of what gets translated, or what I happen to come across, or the zeitgeist of the country. But because of that, now I tend to avoid them, no matter how beautifully rendered they might be!

  3. Barbara says:

    It’s interesting to watch how the tastes of bloggers I follow, like you, have widened their reading because of other bloggers and publishers. I have tried books that I wouldn’t have considered reading before, and the world has opened to me. I had passed on this book, but now think I might like it.

  4. kaye says:

    wow–I’m impressed. I like how you stretch yourself when you read.

  5. kaye says:

    You express things so eloquently – people at the lake “otherwordly”. Personally, I would have just labeled them as “weird”. Great job on your review, Margot!

  6. TheBookGirl says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever read Japanese literature; your wonderful review of this one has me intrigued. I’m okay with dark stories, so I think I might seek this one out at the library.

  7. Staci says:

    I read Kitchen and truly loved it. I have this one on my Kindle to read at some point. Sounds like a great story even with the dark side too!

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