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lunedì 9 aprile 2012

The Briefcase, by Hiromi Kawakami (La cartella del professore)

It's much easier to criticize a book you didn't appreciate, rather than praising one you've truly enjoyed, because after reading and loving a book like I loved "The Briefcase", you are simply lost for words, lost in the lingering atmosphere of the pages, in all the feelings popping up.
I received this book as an Easter gift from my grandmother (my wonderful, beloved grandmother!), I started it yesterday, finished it ten minutes ago. A short book, and a perfect one, sweet and sad and beautiful.

Tsukiko, thirty-eight, works in an office and lives alone. One night, she happens to meet one of her former high school teachers, "Sensei", in a local bar, a kind of bar where food is served too, and this is an important detail because choosing, ordering and sharing food are important matters in the story. Food as a partial substitute for words, as a means to be close and get closer...

His full name was Mr Harutsuna Matsumoto, but I called him ‘Sensei’. Not ‘Mr’ or ‘Sir’, just ‘Sensei’. He was my Japanese teacher in high school. He wasn’t my homeroom teacher, and Japanese class didn’t interest me much, so I didn’t really remember him. Since graduation, I hadn’t seen him for quite a while. Several years ago, we sat beside each other at a crowded bar near the train station, and after that, our paths would cross every now and then. That night, he was sitting at the counter, his back so straight it was almost concave.

In this casual way Tsukiko starts remembering her days with "Sensei". As Tsukiko's narration unfolds, following the flow of the changing seasons, her relationship with the teacher slowly develops into something she gradually acknowledges as love towards this extravagant man who is 30 years her senior. They share details from their past lives and, though some of them may hurt Tsukiko in the beginning (does Sensei still love his dead wife?), in the end the nest they've built for themselves is strong enough to protect them from any harm from the past: as they watch the final parade at Disneyland, they both shed a few tears, maybe moved by different memories. Tsukiko is serene when she expresses this thought, because whatever may have moved them to tears, still they are there together, sharing that moment, loving each other, and that's what matters.
I would like to tell much more but it's hard to do so without ruining all the small treasures hidden in this book...

Hiromi Kawakami's writing is apparently simple because she uses everyday words and expressions, but it's very precise and, word by word, it delicately traces the story of a growing love. Reading the novel, you both want to go on and see how things will develop, and (above all) you want to linger on all words, savour them as Sensei and Tsukiko savour food and sake and tea because in Tsukiko and Sensei's story there's a strong sense of living the moment, there and then, appreciating each small gesture, each word, each fragment of silence.
I hope everyone reading this post will feel curious about this novel, and eager to read it. As for me, I know I've just read one of those books I won't easily leave behind.

10 commenti:

  1. > A short book, and a perfect one, sweet and sad and beautiful.

    I agree with you completely!

  2. Nice to hear from you again! Yes, this writer is truly amazing. She reminded me a little of Yoko Ogawa, another writer I like very much. Have you read anything else from Hiromi Kawakami?

  3. I've read almost her works. I love her early fantastical short stories.

  4. unfortunately, there's only one more book translated into English, and nothing more into Italian, so far. So, no way for me to read her early works :(

  5. I hope her works will be translated soon. I think that she's as important as Yoko Ogawa and Yoko Tawada in contemporary Japanese female authors.

  6. I hope so too. By the way, thanks for mentioning Yoko Tawada. I didn't know her, but I checked on the internet and now I'm very eager to read her works.
    At the moment I'm halfway through The Makioka sisters.

  7. I read this novel recently and enjoyed it a great deal, the prose is perhaps simple but at the sametime also very open, I particularly enjoyed the mushroom picking episode.

  8. Hi! Thanks for commenting. Yes, the mushroom picking episode is unforgettable. I also liked very much their little trip on the island. It's true, the prose is simple but I think she expresses the complexity of feelings with utter perfection.

    I read "The Taste of Tea" is among your favorite films. I like it very much too. Grandfather is a great character. It was thank to that film I discovered Tadanobu Asano, who played in so many other good films. (Café Lumière, Villon's Wife, Kobey - our mother, and my favorite Last Life in the Universe....)

  9. Have you also seen Katsuhito Ishii's film Funky Forest: The First Contact?, the humour in it is perhaps a little stranger, Asano is also in this film, whenever I think of 'Guitar Brother' I smile. He has been in some of my favourite films - Labyrinth of Dreams + Maboroshi no hikari, but the list could go on, (and on).

    I'm reading a collection of stories by Masuda Mizuko at the moment which I'm really enjoying, so many good books to read, but not enough time.

  10. I haven't seen Funky Forest but I heard about it. I have a long list of Japanese films to watch!!
    As for reading, I've just Read The Makioka Sisters and now I'm reading Agnes Grey, by Anne Bronte (I think my next post will be about the Bronte sisters).