cover image The Thorn Puller

The Thorn Puller

Hiromi Ito, trans. from the Japanese by Jeffrey Angles. Stone Bridge, $18.95 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-73762-530-8

Poet Ito makes her English-language fiction debut (after the poetry collection Wild Grass on the Riverbank) with a lyrical and discursive autofictional account of a woman caught between two cultures and her family’s demands for caretaking. Poet Hiromi Ito at 50 splits her time between California, with her third husband and children, and Kumamoto, Japan, where she visits her elderly parents. During one trip, a series of medical appointments reveals her mother has had a stroke, which upends Hiromi’s plans to return to the U.S., even when her much older husband needs emergency bypass surgery. Meanwhile, Hiromi’s young daughter, Aiko, begs for a digital pet, and Hiromi recounts visits to a temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Jizo, who promises to pluck the thorns of suffering from devotees. Chapters slowly cycle through Hiromi’s mother’s deteriorating condition, Hiromi’s rancorous relationship with her husband, and her encounters with fellow Japanese poets. When Aiko is 13, she bonds with a puppy Hiromi adopts, and the financial and emotional cost of her trips mount. With vivid depictions of aging bodies and precise excavation of fraught relationships, Ito builds an intimate study of feminized labor. Fans of Japanese literature will enjoy this impressionistic project. (Dec.)