cover image THE LETTERS


Kazumi Yumoto, Yumoto Kazumi, , trans. by Cathy Hirano. . FSG, $16 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-374-34383-5

The author of The Friend once again addresses the subject of death with extraordinary grace and dignity. Her book, which begins and ends from an adult point of view, traces a Japanese woman's backward journey to a painful time in her life, the three years following her father's sudden death. Chiaki is six years old when she loses her father and moves from her house to a tiny apartment in the suburbs. Feeling disconnected from her grieving mother and anxious in a world where people disappear without warning, Chiaki finds solace in her elderly landlady, Mrs. Yanagi. The woman confides to Chiaki that she keeps a chest full of letters that she plans to deliver to departed loved ones when she leaves the earth. She promises to take with her any messages Chiaki would like to send to her father, inspiring the heroine to write to him regularly. Her letters, growing increasingly articulate and personal over time, allow Chiaki to let go of her fears and focus her energy on the here and now. Yumoto conveys the tension and momentary connections between Chiaki and her mother with subtlety and exquisite pacing, often as reflected in nature, such as their discovery of the poplar tree outside their home with Mrs. Yanagi. The quiet wisdom of their landlady and the compassion of neighbors who surround Chiaki with love carry the protagonist. Rather than attempting to answer unsettling questions about death, the author offers a consolatory message for those left behind. Ages 12-up. (May)