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Belletrista - A site promoting translated women authored literature from around the world


by Banana Yoshimoto
Translated from the Japanese by Michael Emmerich
Reviewed by C. Lariviere

Banana Yoshimoto is one of those authors who can require one to be in a certain mood. I, personally, want to read her works while sitting at the kitchen table. It should be the middle of the night, with just the overhead lamp illuminating my book, and everyone else soundly asleep. No crickets, no chirping. Any other noises would be the churning of the AC, the swish of a fan blade as it cuts through the heat, and that hollow sound created when an ice cube taps against the straw in your glass.

This reading environment is important because Yoshimoto's skilled writing in The Lake draws the reader right in, enticing one to linger over her words and her descriptions. Start her book, and you won't put it down until it's over. Her sentences don't follow the rules set by the likes of Borges or Hugo, what with their verbose prose and philosophical nurturing, but one could hardly call her work simple either. Perhaps it's not that the reader even needs to be in a certain mood but instead that she evokes one. Yoshimoto could be sitting in the middle of the room writing, and not one grain of the collecting dust would be altered unless she wished her characters to do so.

Her characters do not have effervescent personalities; like Yoshimoto's descriptions, they try not to leave their mark in the dust. Instead, they inspire a calmness that allows for internal reflection. The two characters in The Lake, Chihiro and Nakajima, build their relationship off a sequence of exchanged looks from the windows of their respective apartments. Simple glances lead to meetings at coffee shops and from there, Nakajima finds himself at home in Chihiro's apartment. Yet at their first sexual encounter, Nakajima must admit his discomfort, rising from some trouble in his past. Chihiro proceeds to lead the reader into an exploration of her past and Nakajima's, and they find comfort in one another's arms where there is no judgment, nor outward jeering.

It is a tame book but certainly not lacking in its special moments. The exploration of the characters' past and one another is a tender process; their finding of themselves is an evocative moment; the ending shows a gentle promise. At the end of it all, Yoshimoto's masterful style has evoked quite the sentiment upon reading that she has skillfully placed in the mood of her readers without our realizing it.

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