The first book I chose for my Japanese Book Club was Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto which I had previously read last year and loved. I figured it would be a good book for people who maybe havn’t read any Japanese authors before (cos they can get a lil crazy), so here is my spoiler review and for anyone who has read the book too, please leave comments for us to discuss!
I love Banana Yoshimoto’s writing and her ability to capture raw emotions, I generally don’t read contemporary but I binge read most of her books because of how much I could connect with them. Goodbye Tsugumi in particular stuck with me the most, I guess I could see myself a little in each of the characters. I also grew up by the sea which made me nostalgic.
The character of Tsugumi herself I couldn’t help but grow to love, as mean as she appears to be or feels she has to be in order to cope with the hand she’s been dealt. We see this very early on as Maria is recalling her past spent with Tsugumi when she forges a fake letter from Maria’s Grandfather and gives it to Maria after he had just died claiming she saw him in a dream and then found the letter, but in the same moment we see how an act of cruelty in fact made them closer.
The obnoxious smirk that always appeared on her face after she’d said the one thing that everyone present definitely didn’t want to hear-and said it at the most exquisitely wrong time, using the most unmistakably clear language and speaking in the ugliest, most disagreeable tone-made her seem exactly like the devil.
Maria and her mother waited for so long to be able to live as a ‘proper family’ with Maria’s father in Tokyo and I like how the expectations vs. reality of the situation is discussed with Maria and her mother ultimately missing life at the Yamamoto Inn by the sea, which we find out will shortly be gone for good, but Tsugumi wants Maria to spend one last summer there with her which she couldn’t be happier about.
Tsugumi is still her usual sarcastic rude self and nothing seems to have really changed, I like that she had continued to take Pooch for walks in Maria’s absence and that Yoko had even joined her on the walks too. Tsugumi and Yoko might be sisters but they are complete opposites, and then Maria and Tsugumi meet a boy called Kyoichi and his dog Gongoro.
The friendship that emerged between Tsugumi, Maria and Kyoichi felt so innocent and raw. Kyoichi’s love for Tsugumi was so sweet, I loved how his feels were discussed and how she made him feel, as well as seeing the impact he also had on Tsugumi. Now we need to talk about Gongoro, the first time I read this I was quite heartbroken and I’m sorry for not warning people of this part before hand.
The bratty kids decide to take Gongoro, everyone panics and searches for him up and down the beach but can’t find him, Tsugumi is furious and doesn’t give up hope, won’t believe that the poor little dog is really dead so she continues to look for him while putting her own health at risk. It pays off because she finds him and he is safe, hurrah! Kyoichi finds the brats that did it and gives them a good thrashing, surely they won’t be bothered again right? No, they take the dog AGAIN and this time no-one can find him.
“Right now I don’t care about anything. I’m serious, it really feels like some part of me is gone. In the past I didn’t give a damn about death, you know, but now it terrifies me.”
Insert Tsugumi going on a full revenge kick, digging a big hole in the back yard in secret and luring one of the brats to it, hitting him over the head, taping him up and sticking him in the hole. Some would say this might be an over-reaction but I say it’s just. I mean who kills someone else’s dog for no good reason? The kid clearly had it coming. But Tsugumi over-exerts herself and ends up getting sick, really sick.
Now at this point I’m preparing myself for her to die, she has never been as sick as she is now and she has mentally given up for the first time. She doesn’t want to live like this anymore. Maria has to go back to Tokyo as the summer ends and awaits news on how Tsugumi is, also mentally preparing herself for the worst. I’m satisfied with how the story ended and the letter at the end is a nice touch.
So there we go. I want to know what you thought of the book as a whole, what did you like/dislike about the writing/story. What were your favourite moments? If you’d like to read more by Banana Yoshimoto here are a few personal recommendations:
Thank you for joining this readalong if you did and I really hope you enjoyed this book as it will always have a special place to me.
Stay tuned for the next Japanese book club announcement coming soon.
(Spoiler: It’s by Haruki Murakami)