Clarissa Goenawan’s dark, spellbinding literary debut opens with a murder and shines a spotlight onto life in fictional small-town Japan.
Ren Ishida is nearly finished with graduate school when he receives news of his sister Keiko’s sudden death. She was viciously stabbed one rainy night on her way home, and there are no leads. Ren heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister’s affairs, still failing to understand why she chose to abandon the family and Tokyo for this desolate town years ago.
But Ren soon finds himself picking up where Keiko left off, accepting both her teaching position at a local cram school and the bizarre arrangement of free lodging at a wealthy politician’s mansion in exchange for reading to the man’s catatonic wife.
As he comes to know the figures in Akakawa, from the enigmatic politician to his fellow teachers and a rebellious, alluring student named Rio, Ren delves into his shared childhood with Keiko and what followed, trying to piece together what happened the night of her death. Haunted in his dreams by a young girl who is desperately trying to tell him something, Ren struggles to find solace in the void his sister has left behind.
Publisher: Soho Press
Publication Date: March 06, 2018
Setting: Akakawa, Japan
Genre: Mystery, Fiction
Date Read: April 10, 2018
No. of Pages: 323 Pages
Format: Hard Cover
Source: Book of The Month
It’s the “if you love (insert book here) you will definitely enjoy this” that pushed me into reading this book. A good motivation, really, since I am struggling to finish a book these past few months. And would just look at that gorgeous cover!
The book opened with Keiko Ishida’s murder, our protagonist’s older sister. Now Ren Ishida needs to go to a small town in Japan – Akakawa to learn what happened to his sister that fateful night. A promising premise, if you ask me, but unfortunately the book wasn’t able to sustain the thrill it promised.
Comparison to a Haruki Murakami novel
I was told that if I love Haruki Murakami’s books, then I would definitely enjoy this one. To be compared to a Murakami novel is a big shoes to fill, it sets a high expectation and either it would exceed the expectation or fall behind it. The case here is the latter. While it is true that the book is somehow reminiscent to that of a Murakami novel, there are however striking differences. Both have that subtle, silent, calm quality to it – qualities that would put you at a certain mood and qualities that if you don’t pay too much attention would be lost in you. However Rainbirds felt like it wanted to tell different side stories but the connection or coherence of it all did not meld well, it was a bit forced, to say the least.
Japan in the 90s
I love that the book was set in Japan in the 90s, it added to the mystery of the whole book. It may have been one of its strong suit. The way the author described certain places transports its readers and made them feel as if they were there too. I don’t know if it’s just me or books set in Japan has this melancholic feel to it that I can not pinpoint exactly, all I know is it adds beauty to the book.
Great premise, mediocre execution
The premise of the book is what would capture its audience. With an unsolved murder opening the book, it is but natural to draw readers in. The never-ending quest to know who did it will always be something readers crave, I myself included. However I find the execution of the whole novel a bit mediocre, again blame this on the expectation set too high. The loose ends were not as polished as I hoped it to be. The bridge linking the events and the domino effect it tried to provide were not solid enough to make the book more put-together. There were moments when I hardly see the relevance of one event to another. The few chapters toward the end felt a little bit rushed. It felt like everything is crammed up inside a suitcase, all wrinkly and in disarray. Maybe if the book was a little longer, it could have tied all the loose ends better. There were awkward parts as well, for an instance this particular scene warrants a certain reaction, but the characters in it did something cringe-y or something unconventional in the normal course of things – this happened a lot, and was a major turn off for me.
Characters and their likability
Ren Ishida – our main character is just your average guy – young, good looking and intelligent. Easy to like right? However as the story progresses, the book showed a side of Ren that isn’t likeable. What is it with Ren and all these women? This is something the book can definitely do away with, it did not add anything to the story, if for anything it was a little annoying. Ren isn’t a spectacular character, he was plain and a little boring to be completely honest, his character could have been portrayed well, there are so many things the author could have done to make the main character cut above the rest, but no, it had to be this boring guy who for inexplicable reasons seems to draw the attention of too many women. Then we have Seven Stars or Rio who was portrayed as a rebellious teenager with issues of her own. Another character with great potential that the author failed to maximize. Her connection to the whole story is yet another forced one. Keiko Ishida, was the only one consistent in this story, this is through the recollection of her brother Ren, her character is what I expected it to be, the only character I liked to be completely honest. Other characters such as Ren’s neighbor, Izumi the building manager, Mr. and Mrs. Katou, Pigtails, Mrs. Katsuragi, Honda, Anzu, Jin, and all others are characters that was supposed to contribute to the story but all fell short and I keep missing their relevance to it all. Again, great characters that the author wasn’t able to fully utilize.
On the fence
I don’t hate the book, but I don’t love it either. And it is such a sad situation where I can’t actually categorize it. Was it a bad book? No it was not, it had great potential just not executed well. Despite the issues I had with this book, I definitely would want to see the author grow and watch out what she will be able to come up with her next books.
Sadness alone can’t harm anyone. It’s what you do when you’re sad that can hurt you and those around you.
– Clarissa Goenawan