Review: Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto

Title: Goodbye Tsugumi
Author: Banana Yoshimoto
Obtained: borrowed from library || image from google image search
Publisher: Grove Press
Rating: 4/5
Read for: Japanese Lit Challenge 4

Blurb

Maria Shirakawa is a thoughtful young woman thrown by family circumstance (her parents never married; with her mother, she is waiting for her father’s divorce from his current wife) into growing up with her cousin, Tsugumi Yamamoto, in her aunt and uncle’s small inn. Tsugumi, who is chronically ill, possesses a mischievous charm that both maddens and amuses her family. As Maria describes Tsugumi: “She was malicious, she was rude, she had a foul mouth, she was selfish, she was horribly spoiled, and to top it all off she was brilliantly sneaky.” Tsugumi’s tenuous health seems to free her from the behavioral norms that govern Maria and Tsugumi’s long-suffering older sister, Yoko, allowing her to curse, flirt with boys, concoct elaborate pranks and shock adults in a way Maria resents, envies and admires. Eventually, Maria’s parents are united and she leaves to attend university in Tokyo, returning for a final summer during which the inn is being demolished, and this provides Yoshimoto with all the plot she needs to explore the difficult but affectionate bond between the cousins. (amazon.com)

On the Cover

I love the cover. Love, love, love. The above image is the exact cover on the book I borrowed from the library. The colors, despite the blurriness, are so vibrant. The red and blue stand out so sharply against the soft beiges in the background. The image’s blurriness brings to mind an image in a memory–memories are rarely clear, but some things really stand out, much like the red and blues in the image. The girl walking across what looks like a beach is also relevant to the story, since the story takes place at a sea-side inn.

The Plot

I tried so hard to like Tsugumi. I really did. I wanted to like her as much as Maria did, but Tsugumi was mean for the sake of being mean, and she hid behind her illness, which makes it all worse. Really, I could understand forgiveness to a point–Tsugumi was a brat, especially when she was stuck in bed, but aren’t we all?

What I really thought was unforgiveable was her prank on Maria concerning her grandfather. Tsugumi pushes the bounds too far and despite apologizing, she still laughs in Maria’s face. I understand that Tsugumi is family, and sometimes we forgive and overlook things that you wouldn’t with others, but I guess I’m just not that tolerant, even when the person in question is ill.

I did, however, adore Yoko. She was pushed to the background so much that sometimes it didn’t feel like she was Tsugumi’s sister, but someone who had just a walk-on part in a play. But I liked her. She was honest and a true friend to Maria.

I think what bothered me most was Maria’s adoration of Tsugumi. Despite everything Tsugumi does to Maria, Maria still finds room to admire her. She constantly talks about how much life Tsugumi has; how much energy and passion. I just couldn’t get over how much I hated her. I did admire Maria, though, for her forgiveness. She eventually forgives Tsugumi for all the nasty things she does. it’s a strength I lack, I guess.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I just couldn’t get past Tsugumi’s hateful attitude, despite how beautiful she is. The book itself is well-written. The complicated relationship between Maria and Tsugumi is conveyed so well that sometimes it’s like Maria is sitting beside you, telling you stories of Tsugumi’s antics; of her bravery and strength, sometimes even her rage. But what interested me most of all was how, despite everything Tsugumi does, how gullible she thinks Maria is, Maria often seems to know what Tsugumi is thinking.

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