Books / Reviews | ESSENTIAL READING FOR JAPANOPHILES

'Goodbye Tsugumi': Banana Yoshimoto's portrait of a feisty young woman in '80s Japan

Banana Yoshimoto found fame in 1988 when her wildly successful debut novel “Kitchen” was published. Her unique take on contemporary themes and ability to conjure up feisty yet vulnerable heroines was what attracted readers — two aspects that reappear in “Goodbye Tsugumi,” her 1989 novel that chronicles a summer in the lives of two teenage cousins.

Goodbye Tsugumi, by Banana Yoshimoto, Translated by Michael Emmerich.
186 pages
Grove Press, Fiction.

The story begins as college student Maria, the narrator, moves to Tokyo with her single mother after living at a seaside inn owned by the parents of her cousin Tsugumi. Maria tells the story, but Tsugumi is arguably the true protagonist.

Plagued with an unspecified illness, Tsugumi’s health is a constant source of worry to her family and even the slightest exertion can send her to bed. While her constitution may be delicate, Tsugumi’s character is anything but — she has a foul mouth and an acid tongue. Her relationship with Maria is complicated but the young student values Tsugumi’s company.

When Tsugumi’s parents decide to relocate their inn to the mountains, she invites Maria to spend one last summer with her. But Maria soon realizes that the idyllic summers of her childhood can’t be recaptured, and gains a deeper understanding of her difficult cousin.

You may not necessarily grow to like Tsugumi, but it is impossible not to care about the fate of this unlikely heroine, whose wit is as sharp as her tongue.

Read archived reviews of Japanese classics at jtimes.jp/essential.

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