Thursday, January 29, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto

Asleep is a collection of three short novellas, all of which focus on some aspect of death and also a sleeping, either literal or psychic, born of trauma.

Night and Night's Travelers
"Night and Night's Travelers" is a tale of the literal death of one and the resulting temporary emotional death of another. The narrator is Shibami and she tells the story of her "vibrantly charismatic" brother Yoshihiro and her dreamy cousin Mari. Yoshihiro and Mari are not only cousins, but lovers. After Yoshihiro's death, Mari withdraws and enters a year of dreamlike fog and sleepwalking.

Love Songs
"Love Songs" tells of the haunting of one woman by another. Fumi has found herself at the end of an affair and drinking to excess. She often hears a "soothing voice singing." This voice belongs to Haru, a dead woman with whom Fumi once shared her ex-lover. Fumi is drawn to this voice from the beyond and, through consultation with a midget psychic, is able to meet with Haru. In life, the two women were in a relationship of bitter resentment and jealousy, yet in this meeting of life and afterlife they find peace and friendship.

"Asleep" is the story of Terako who shares the deep sleep of her lover's comatose wife. Mr. Iwanaga has an unusual effect on women ... he puts them to sleep. His wife is in a coma and his lover, Terako, becomes increasingly sleepy. As Terako separates herself from Mr. Iwanaga and creates her own life, she finds a new energy.

Supernatural occurrences seem natural throughout the stories in Asleep. The language is sparse, creating silences and the stories lack any attempt to draw the reader in emotionally. Yoshimoto's writing style reminded me of minimalist Japanese decor. The setting is sparse, but what is there is beautiful. The writing often seems like a prose version of haiku:
Late at night the trees in my garden seemed to shine.
Awash in light from the street, the quiet glittering green of the
leaves and the deep brown of the trunk seemed startlingly vivid.

Those looking for an exciting read will not find it in Asleep. What the reader will find is a quiet and beautiful collection of stories that take the vicissitudes of life in stride.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This title was read as part of the Japanese Literature Challenge II hosted by Bellezza.

Note to other reviewers: If you've written a review for this book, please let me know by posting the permanent URL for your review in the comments. I'll be happy to add a link to your review with my post.

Also reviewed by:
nymeth at things mean a lot


  1. Quiet and beautiful seems to be the rule with her books. This sounds like a collection I'd really enjoy.

  2. Nymeth: It was so quiet that I didn't realize how good it was until I sat down to write up a review!

  3. These stories do sound intriguing and kind of remind me think of Murakami's After Dark because of the sleeping theme. I've read Kitchen and another one by Yoshimoto that I can't even remember now but I'll have to add this one to my wish list.

  4. tanabata: I didn't even think of the sleep connection between the two books! And I read them both last year. It is an interesting theme.