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by Nobuko Takagi
Translated from the Japanese by Deborah Iwabuchi
Reviewed by C. Lariviere

"I've made my decision. I'm going to be your prostitute."

This certainly isn't a traditional love story. Chigiri, a single mother in Japan, and Go Imai, a documentary filmmaker, begin a provocative relationship when they meet again 25 years after Go first filmed Chigiri's father, a swordmaker. Since Go last saw Chigiri, her father's health has deteriorated severely, Chigiri has been married and divorced, and nothing is quite right in her life. Go's own life consists of an unsatisfying marriage and a plethora of meaningless women at his bedside.

Translucent Tree is a story that redefines what we know about romance, love, and the traditional means by which we try to obtain that love. In fact, every part of the story seems to seek an answer beginning with questioning the translation of Tsurugi, the name of Chigiri's village. The title of the book itself is open for debate, as is the existence of the Rokuro cedar tree in the outskirts of the village. What makes it bend as it does?

We can easily see Go and Chigiri's relationship twisting like the branches of the tree, reaching out to fulfill what they're missing, the leaves echoing feelings they dare not admit. The very base of their romantic journey is founded on a monetary proposition, a tangled mess that begins with a series of one‒ night stands with each other, fumbling sex scenes void of emotion. Or, rather, incapable of expressing their true feelings. The reader's romantic sensibilities are prodded as we are left wondering if these two characters can disentangle themselves from their untraditional beginnings. Unfortunately, and possibly unintentionally, the text leaves us reaching and questioning what we're missing at times. The narrative goes flat at certain moments as does the translation.

But at the end of it all this short novella provides a new look at a relationship that starts with the erotic and fulfils it's longing for love.

"That was when she lost her license as a prostitute."

Translucent Tree is Nobuko Takagi's first novel translated into English. It was awarded best literary novel of the year along with winning the acclaimed Tanizaki Award. Takagi herself has been the recipient of the Women's Literature Award and the Minister of Culture Award. In 1984 she won the Akutagawa Prize.