Title: Strange Weather in Tokyo
Author: Hiromi Kawakami
Genre: Fiction, contemporary, romance
Where I got the book: I purchased this book through Bokkilden.
My rating: ★★★☆☆
Summary: 37-year old Tsukiko is drinking alone in a local bar when she happens to meet her former high school Japanese teacher. Unable to remember his name, she falls into the old habit of calling the 67-year old man “Sensei”. Tsukiko and Sensei are both lonely people, and though they are in many ways a mismatched couple, they continue to meet and their friendship deepens.
“If the love is true, then treat it the same way you would a plant – feed it, protect it from the elements – you must do absolutely everything you can. But if it isn’t true, then it’s best to just let it wither on the vine.”
– Strange Weather in Tokyo, Hiromi Kawakami
Set against the backdrop of nature and hiking, changing seasons and weather, a little bit of poetry and Japanese cuisine, this book is very much a mood read. A distinct atmosphere is set early on and remains throughout the entire book, and the imagery is soft, light, vivid, and wrapped up in minimalist but smooth writing. This book can be read on a snow day, a rainy day, or in summer, all the same.
The love story that the plot is centered around is charmingly awkward, sometimes comical, and a bit quirky. Together with the overall atmosphere of the book, I also loved the way loneliness and lonely people were described. Sometimes there’s no good reason why loneliness hits, some people just are, and I found this especially haunting. This comes through very subtly in the way the relationship between Tsukiko and Sensei develops – the distance they put between themselves and the fact that it sometimes would take months between each time they met, despite enjoying each other’s company. Their relationship is a complicated one for several reasons, and it’s one that takes a long time to settle.
That said, my biggest problem with this book was my inability to actually connect with any of the main characters. That was a bit disappointing seeing as they were initially a rather interesting pair. I have to say that I’ve read enough Haruki Murakami novels to know that I don’t have to actually like the protagonist(s) to love the book, as I often find many of his characters unlikeable in a sense, but it’s pretty crucial that I still care about them enough to want to read about them. Sadly, in the end Kawakami’s book failed to do that for me. A number of times both Tsukiko and Sensei struck me as unnecessarily childish, annoying, and frustrating, and the way they communicated seemed unnatural and stilted. The attempts at using dialogue to put a distance between them, age-wise and otherwise, came off sounding a bit pretentious and overbearing (whether this was because of the translation itself or not, I don’t know). I just didn’t like the way they talked to/with each other and the book kind of just gradually lost me when I began to realize this.
In the last half or so there is also a short part that attempts magical realism, or a dream sequence, something which I thought disrupted the flow of the story and mostly just confused me. This made things a bit unclear, such as the setting itself, where the characters actually were, and when the sequence was supposed to have ended, and I was unable to fully keep up with this. I love magical realism as a literary device, usually this is exactly my thing, and I don’t mind some confusion as a reader, but in this case it didn’t work that well. It was more like a completely new and random element was introduced when the book was well over halfway.
All that said, there are some moments in here that are deeply touching – the ending in particular – and these moments are in my opinion made even more beautiful because of the simplistic writing. Overall I really enjoyed the mood and the general premise of the book, however the consistency and my ability to sympathize with the characters weren’t all there.