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Natsu Miyashita’s novel “The Forest of Wool and Steel” opens with nature: “the scent of the forest close by … the earthy fragrance of autumn.” Yet the narrator, 17-year-old Naoki Tomura, is not describing some forgotten grove, but instead his first experience with piano tuning inside a musty high school gymnasium in rural Hokkaido.

This unexpected juxtaposition of nature and music is a deliberate motif throughout the novel, as the wool and steel piano keys of the title foretell. It’s a personal reflection of Miyashita’s own life experiences that resonated widely with Japanese audiences, earning her both a nomination for the Naoki Prize and the 2016 Japan Booksellers’ Award. A movie adaptation of the novel followed in 2018.

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