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The Lake

The Lake - Banana Yoshimoto, Michael Emmerich It's interesting to peer into another culture sometimes and try to dissect it to find what makes it the way it is. This is the first book I've read by Japanese writer Banana Yoshimoto. Her attention to the subtleties of the personal interactions between her characters is definitely fodder for such dissection.

Chihiro falls in love with Nakajima before she ever meets him as they exchange greetings daily from their respective balconies across the street from each other. When they finally meet in person, Chihiro savors every moment spent with the Nakajima who seems as if his slightness of being could fade into that of a ghost at any moment. She gently allows him to reveal himself and his unspoken and unusual past to her. While the plot of the book is a simple one, the characters and words are filled with rich concepts to ponder.

I received a Christmas card a couple of days ago from a former Japanese student. The note that she wrote inside jolted me a bit because it was so openly honest (in a very sweet way). And that was one of the first thing that I noticed with the way the Japanese characters talked to each other in The Lake; how honest the characters are with each other. If they think something, they say it, but it's definitely more of a true honesty than I'm used to. And it's definitely more of a brutal than sweet honesty than my student's. This absolute honesty seems more stringent than most Americans would tolerate without offense. There's a fine dance between opening up to a person and becoming closer to them and truly saying everything that you think to them without holding back. Yoshimoto's characters that love each other the most seem to hold back from the brutal honesty offered to other characters, or as Nakajima calls it, the "emotional violence" that most people use on each other. Yet, this doesn't seem to bring them truly closer together either. Chihiro wonders, "Why were we so far apart, even when we were together? It was a nice loneliness, like the sensation of washing your face in cold water."

I've noticed loneliness as a theme in Japanese literature and film. This book also reminds me of the feeling of shared loneliness in the movie "Lost in Translation". It seems that Yoshimoto's feeling is that there's really not a way to remove loneliness, but that there's a way to savor a nice shared version of it.

I'd definitely read another book by Yoshimoto. She's a master of characterization and mood. This book had a nice melancholy to it which is always perfect for winter reading.