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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Kawakami Hiromi

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To purchase Manazuru

Title: Manazuru
Author: Kawakami Hiromi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 218 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Manazuru - US
Manazuru - UK
Manazuru - Canada
Manazuru - India
Manazuru - France
Am Meer ist es wärmer - Deutschland
Manazuru - España
  • Japanese title: 真鶴
  • Translated by Michael Emmerich

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Our Assessment:

B : a bit too self-involved, but reasonably compelling

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 26/7/2010 .
Télérama . 10/10/2009 Marine Landrot

  From the Reviews:
  • "Some jarring transitions aside, Kawakami's handling of temporal space feels authentic (.....) Kawakami has a remarkable ability to obscure reality, fantasy, and memory, making the desire for love feel hauntingly real." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Hiromi Kawakami réussit là où son personnage échoue: sous sa plume, la nature aimante la pensée, pour révéler toute la violence intérieure des êtres." - Marine Landrot, Télérama

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Manazuru is narrated by Kei, a woman in her forties with a teenage daughter, Momo, whose husband disappeared over a dozen years ago. Rei simply vanished, without a trace, without any clue as to what might have become of him, and Manazuru describes the later stages of Kei's coming to terms with this abrupt change in her life.
       Kei and Momo live with Kei's mother, in a three-woman household; Kei is also involved with a married man (and someone she works for), Seiji -- though for the most part she's satisfied with their relationship:

I have never been jealous of Seiji's wife or his children. Because it is unclear to me what family means. I did not create the family into which I was born. The family I tried to create broke, so easily. I have never, really, sensed it, what a family is.
       Throughout her account, Kei revisits the past, describing bits of her relationship with Rei, recounting a few episodes -- still trying to figure him out, and what went wrong. There relationship seemed to have still been evolving, Rei still something of an enigma to her -- though obviously, in constantly going over all the little signs, he seems even more of a mystery to her than ever.
       Kei slowly tries to let him go over the years, getting rid of his possessions or, for example:
     I take Rei's diary from my bag. Open it, tear out a random page. Once a year, or so, I do this. Eventually, I hope, I will tear all the pages out.
       One of the entries in the diary -- which seems more like an appointment book with a few jottings --, from a month before he disappeared, simply says: Manazuru. It is a seaside town, and Kei now finds herself repeatedly drawn to it, as if it might hold the secret of Rei's disappearance; over the course of her account, she visits it several times, though without a clear aim.
       Kei also senses that she is being followed -- or shadowed, or haunted. There's a woman whose presence she can feel; eventually the woman talks to her, prodding her along -- and helping her come to terms with the unanswerable questions (and specifically that one big question -- what happened to Rei ?) that have been weighing her down for so long.
       Meanwhile, Kei's relationship with the maturing Momo also grows more complicated, as Momo begins to become a more independent person. Beside reflecting on Rei, Kei also looks back at her changing relationship with her daughter throughout the novel. And, yes, Kei (prodded by Seiji) also tries her hand at writing a novel; thankfully, this isn't allowed to play too large a role in the story.
       Kei has a complex issue to deal with, but this self-centered narrative can't avoid considerable self-indulgence. Relying on what amounts to a super-natural guide (even if that is only the subconscious manifestation of an attempt to confront the issues) also feels like something of a cop-out. Nevertheless, for the most part, Kawakami handles presenting this difficult process of letting go and moving on well. Her use of the secondary characters -- Momo, who is also curious about her father, as well as Rei's family -- is good, too.
       The almost dreamy drift of Manazuru -- the look for a hold in a world that has long been one of almost complete uncertainty -- has some appeal, and it is quite compelling. Yet even if the protagonist's situation is more intriguing than that found in most 'I'-novels -- that (far too) popular Japanese introspective genre -- much of the self-centered narrative covers very familiar territory, in very familiar ways. Kawakami's writing and presentation is a cut above the usual -- but too much of Manazuru still feels too usual.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 July 2010

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Manazuru: Reviews: Other books by Kawakami Hiromi under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Kawakami Hiromi (川上 弘美) was born in 1958.

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