Asleep

Banana Yoshimoto, Author, Michael Emmerich, Translator
Banana Yoshimoto, Author, Michael Emmerich, Translator Grove Press $21 (192p) ISBN 978-0-8021-1669-7
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
Paperback - 192 pages - 978-0-8021-3820-0
Paperback - 177 pages - 978-0-571-20537-0
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Writing in her customary spare yet luminous style, Yoshimoto's latest work consists of three short novellas set in nameless contemporary Japanese cities, each one narrated by a young Japanese woman who has been frozen into a temporary literal or psychic sleep as a result of trauma. Although we meet each woman during a hiatus in her life, these periods are not tragic or ominous, but merely pauses for recovery; part of the charm of the book is the characters' lack of fuss or self-importance. Although each is suffering--one in mourning for her beloved brother's death, one fragile at the end of a painful affair and one deeply involved with a man whose wife is in a coma--each woman sees herself as an incidental or supporting character, in refreshing contrast to Western self-involvement. The characters' poise means that they calmly accept dreamlike or supernatural events. It feels utterly right and logical when Shibami meets her lost brother in a strange encounter with his son; when Fumi, with the help of a midget psychic, makes contact with Haru, the woman she had so bitterly resented when they shared the same abusive lover; or when Terako begins to share the deep sleep of her lover's comatose wife. These women share a kind of observant detachment, creating a deceptively casual style; while one does not particularly notice the language, words are used as in a haiku, with as much emphasis on the silences between them as on the space they take up. Especially appealing are the relationships between the cool but very likable female characters. At the core of each novella are two deeply attuned young women, and part of the discovery in each story has to do with the narrator's realization of the importance of this female connection. (June)
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