I have been succeeding in reading only short books during COVID. This novella fit the page limit, and fit the Japanese Literature Challenge, and I loved the cool cover, AND I loved the sound of the story!
Coming of age is never easy. It’s even harder when you have a single Mom who is “Westernizing” your grandmother’s house while Grandma (Mom’s mother-in-law) is slowly dying in her bed. Our unnamed narrator is a boy in the 4th–6th grades. He falls hard for the lady who packages and sells the ready-made sandwiches at his local supermarket. She is a controversial figure. Ice-blue eye shadow is her trademark. The girls (who frighten him) whose parents put dancing class over cram school say they’d rather die than look like her. But oh the feelings are so real! And then there is this: “Grandma’s who’s asleep and Grandma who’s going to die Are these the same Grandma?“A boy needs his Grandma–even if she’s barely “there,” especially if his Mom always has her head in her phone.
“So I decide to pretend the three [dancing class] girls don’t exist, and to pay attention to the tiny leaves in front of me, and take my brush and dab them with bluish-green paint. This moment, this feeling. When you first look at it, the surface of the drawing paper looks totally flat, but if you look carefully there are bumps and pits in the surface. Like the bumpy, rocky surface of a mountain. Colored rain pours down on it, and before you realize it, the surface has completely changed” (p. 45).
Our boy escapes from his less-than-perfect home life and his Ice Sandwich lady dreams into his art> First his school project of a landscape and then his labor of love: drawing Miss Ice Sandwich until the finished product is as perfect as he can make it.
This is such a sweet story! Finally, a Japanese novel I’m positive I understood. Not since Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford have I bee so moved by a coming-of-age story. This was just about perfect.
For the second time in a year, I am awarding:
Miss Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami. Translated by Louise Heal Kawai
Here is a link to all the information on the Japanese Literature Challenge #14
My earlier book review for Japanese Literature Challenge #14
after the quake by Haruki Murakami