It's a shortish story of cousins Maria and Tsugumi. Maria is the daughter of an unmarried women who's married lover eventually leaves his wife to live with Maria (now a young adult) and her mother. While waiting for her lover, her mother and Maria live with Tsugumi's family and help running a local inn. Tsugumi is an extremely frail and sick young girl, with a spirit that could move mountains. She was feisty, rude and at times bitter.
The story revolves around Maria's recollections of her childhood and youth in the village, at the inn, and with Tsugumi. She recalls events, or experiences from her life, and in particular her 'last' summer with Tsugumi in the village. I think she is in fact searching for some way to make meaning of her life, to put some clarity into what was a Tsugumi centred childhood. (therefore I think the blurry cover photo makes sense).
I really enjoyed the book for the storyline - which was simple yet meaningful. I also enjoyed the authors writing style - which felt to me like Maria was wriitng in her diary. Yoshimoto very ably depicted the emotions, experiences and recollections of a young woman, and captured the essence of the adventure of youth.
I wont fill my page here with quotes from the book because there were just too many to choose from, however check out Dolce Bellezza, A Good Stopping Point,and A Striped Armchair, for their thoughts and favourite quotes. For me, I thought I would reflect on the characters of significance for me.
- Maria - the narrator. Could've been me as I am just like her in the way I reflect on things, and relate to my family.
- Yoko - Tsugumi's older sister. She doesn't get a lot of airspace, cos Tsugumi takes it all. But what a patient, caring and supportive sister she is. Will she ever have a life of her own, or does she reflect the traditional role for Japanese women?
- Pooch - he's the dog that seems to capture Tsugumi's heart and brings out her compassionate side. He seems to offer her the unconditional love and acceptance that Tsugumi might have desperately wanted but could get because she saw her illness as a barrier to relating to people.
- Maria's Dad - he seems to represent the real world - he's the one who has 'other lives' - with his first wife, his job in the city, and his desire to have family with Maria and her mother.