Japanese novel review: さざなみのよる (sazanami no yoru) by 木皿泉 (Izumi Kizara)

By | April 23, 2019

Despite the fact I can get Japanese books quite easily while living in the U.S.––ebooks, online order of paper books, or even buying them in person at Kinokuniya in Beaverton––whenever I go to Japan I feel a need to buy at least one or two novels. There is some logic to this: first, because Japanese books are generally significantly cheaper there, and second because there is a much better selection.

Still, on a recent trip to Japan I hesitated to buy books until the last day when I was in a bookstore in Haneda airport and realized I really needed to buy a novel.

The book I ended up choosing was Sazanami no yoru (“A night of ripples”) by Izumi Kizara (木皿泉). This was a bit of an unusual pick since I didn’t particularly like the cover, hadn’t heard of the author before, nor was there any description on the cover of what the book was about. My purchase was based mainly on three things: relatively short length (roughly 200 pages), an interest in the title, and some marketing ribbon on the book that said something about this being a “tearful” story and a piece of literature. Given all the above information, I was genuinely curious what this story was about.

The story is about a woman named Nasumi who falls ill and the aftermath of that–-essentially how events in her life effected those around her. As usual, I’m not going to give away much of the plot so I’ll leave it mostly at that. I will say that this is the type of story that doesn’t sound that interesting in summary form (At least to me), which may be why there was no blurb on the book anywhere.

For those learning Japanese, I think this is a really great book because of how close it gets to real life. For example, you’ll hear names of places like Mos Burger or Don Quixote that you’ll likely come across if you ever travel or live in Japan for any period of time. Because the story consists of a lot of day-to-day things (visiting someone in the hospital, discussions among family members, etc.), I think you’ll be able to pick up some Japanese words and expressions which should help you if you ever want to live in Japan. The characters are generally everyday people with few special traits that make them stand out.

There isn’t much in the way of advanced words either, nor is there many difficult kanji. Those that know most of the jouyou kanji shouldn’t have to look up many kanji. (I think there was only one or two characters I didn’t know that didn’t have furigana). The grammar is also relatively straightforward and there is enough dialogue to help propel you through the book. Just be aware that there are some longish paragraphs involving character’s thoughts which can extend from half a page to an entire page.

Ultimately this book is about human relations and feelings, and while I generally prefer books with more action or unusual settings, I felt the author did a good job of connecting all the characters to show the “ripples” that went across time and space. While I won’t say I cried much (I did almost once or twice), I think it is fair to call this a “tearful” story; if you are the type of person who is extra sensitive to such stories I think there’s a good chance you’ll shed a few tears.

This book also touches on some important universal topics like the cycle of life and death, and the soul. Some of the ideas used were interesting, if not profound.

While the authors’ writing style was somewhat simple, I felt there was just something special about certain parts of the book. For example, an inside joke between characters about giving single-letter nicknames to various people (“let’s call that guy ‘ki’) around them was really heartfelt and creatively written. There was another key part where a mysterious message was communicated through a form of wordplay based on the dual meanings of a certain word. Both of these parts would be pretty difficult to translate without explicit notes by the translator.

I wouldn’t say the end of this novel was particularly satisfying, but ultimately I think this story is more about the journey than the destination. The way I see it, the the ‘ripples’ eventually just fade out.

After reading the book I heard that Izumi Kizara is actually a wife/husband duo who have worked on scripts for dramas such as “Nobuta wo produce”, which I think I actually saw myself a very long time ago. I think it’s pretty awesome that a couple can work together on a creative work like this, and perhaps that is where some of the magic comes from.

All things considered, I think this was a pretty good read, and because of the moderate length and relatively easy language I would recommend this book for those with a few years of Japanese experience who want to increase their exposure to Japanese literature––especially if you are looking for a taste of (mostly) everyday life without actually going to Japan.

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