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‘The Great Passage’: Shion Miura’s dictionary of life

by Kris Kosaka

First published in 2011, Shion Miura’s “The Great Passage” still rides high in popularity today. Miura brings together a cast of eccentric characters, united in their aim to publish a comprehensive dictionary despite the cost, reluctance from their publishing firm and the monumental effort involved.

The Great Passage, by Shion Miura, Translated by Juliet Winters Carpente.
222 pages
AMAZONCROSSING, Fiction.

The novel spans 15 years as it follows the process of completing the enormous, ambitious tome, detailing the many obstacles and challenges the editors face. Sprinkled throughout the text are mini-discourses on the meanings of words the characters discuss, like how to define “left” and “right,” “man” and “woman” or “love.” But it’s not only wordsmiths who will be enthralled. Each section of the novel focuses around one character, articulating their life and passions — both romantic and career-oriented — with engrossing completeness.

The book’s simple message, the importance of finding meaningful passions in work and relationships, is quietly repeated within each character’s journey. It’s a message that obviously resounds deeply within Japanese society, as the success of a 2013 movie adaptation, directed by Yuya Ishii, also made clear.

“The Great Passage” is stylistically adept, with the shift in narratives smoothly connecting as characters’ stories overlap through time and space. The novel leaves readers with plenty of thoughtful insights on life, words and the importance of finding your greatness.