Timy reviews Four Seasons in Japan, a standalone novel by Nick Bradley.
I received an eARC from the publisher on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
|Literary Fiction, Contemporary, Fiction
|Random House UK / Transworld Digital / Doubleday
|Date of Publishing:
|June 22, 2023
|depression, suicidal thoughts, mentioned suicide
Possible The Sound of Madness Reading Challenge prompts:
- Free Your Mind
- Are You Gonna Be My Girl
- Mindenütt Jó (Everywhere is Good)
- Family Portrait
- I’ll Be There
Flo is sick of Tokyo. Suffering from a crisis in confidence, she is stuck in a rut, her translation work has dried up and she’s in a relationship that’s run its course. That’s until she stumbles upon a mysterious book left by a fellow passenger on the Tokyo Subway. From the very first page, Flo is transformed and immediately feels compelled to translate this forgotten novel, a decision which sets her on a path that will change her life…
It is a story about Ayako, a fierce and strict old woman who runs a coffee shop in the small town of Onomichi, where she has just taken guardianship of her grandson, Kyo. Haunted by long-buried family tragedy, both have suffered extreme loss and feel unable to open up to each other. As Flo follows the characters across a year in rural Japan, through the ups and downs of the pair’s burgeoning relationship, she quickly realises that she needs to venture outside the pages of the book to track down its elusive author. And, as her two protagonists reveal themselves to have more in common with her life than first meets the eye, the lines between text and translator converge. The journey is just beginning.
From the author of The Cat and The City , Four Seasons in Japan is a gorgeously crafted book-within-a-book about literature, purpose and what it is to belong.
“It’s a dangerous thing sometimes, achieving your dream.”
I admit I know next to nothing about Japanese music, except for a few songs from the NANA anime, which is… not much. So I went to Youtube and picked up a song about cherry blossoms.
Four Season of Japan was another one of my impulse requests during my springtime request rampage on NetGalley. I liked the cover and the sound of the blurb, and as I’m curious about Japanese culture in general, I thought this would be a nice palate cleanser between my other SFF ARCs and SPFBO books. I really wish I would pick up more books set in Japan.
Flo is an American, living in Japan, working as a translator. While she loves Tokyo and Japan, she is unhappy with her life. Her girlfriend is about to leave for New York, translating jobs are sparse as nothing picks her interest (when she is not battling with self-doubt, that is), and she feels like a burden for her friends. Until, one day, Chance brings a book her way, that she can finally dedicate her time to.
Four Seasons in Japan follows Flo over a year of changes, as well as the book she is translating, which tells the story of a year where Kyo, a nineteen-year-old boy has to live with his grandmother, Ayako while he studies for his university retake exams. All the while honing his artistic skills and trying to figure out how to communicate with Ayako. There are generational differences as well as city vs countryside oppositions. Kyo is used to the big city life with countless entertainment possibilities, and hanging out with his friends while her mother works as a doctor and barely has time for him. Ayako on the other hand is very used to her quiet life and her routines and has very a strict view of things. She knows grief and loss all too well and tries her best to do better with Kyo. She is the type of woman who means well but is absolutely certain she knows what’s best for Kyo, and never admits if she is wrong.
Neither is easy to live with, and it’s very fascinating to read about how their relationship grows over the time of a year, with all its ups and downs. Even though they are very different people, they also have more in common than they would think. They are both stubborn, strong-headed, driven by their passions, and have hearts of gold. Neither of them is easy to like or agree with at times, but I loved reading about them and all the characters that appear in their lives. Especially Ayumi. She was the best.
Flo, on the other hand, came off as a bit insufferable. Yeah, she is having a hard time, and I certainly could identify with her at times, but I totally agreed with her girlfriend and friend about her being exhausting for people who try to talk or to get close to her. The thing is, her character is just not fleshed out enough. We know almost nothing about her, we only see little glimpses into her life, and as a reader, it’s very hard to connect with her in any way. And while I understand the author’s intentions, I don’t think she added much to the overall reading experience. Except maybe the bits where she visits the town the book is based on, and we get an interesting look at how reality and fiction can differ. That was actually fascinating.
Nick Bradley in his novel deals with some serious topics such as depression, suicide, generational differences, and how much pressure society puts on children and adults alike. From a very young age children are expected to study very hard and meet the expectations of their parents who want the same or better for them (as any parents would), and even the littlest slip can have consequences. Kyo’s failed university entrance exams make him feel like a failure and a disappointment, and while he struggles with his mother’s expectations for him, he also tries to figure out how to pursue what he actually wants. On the other hand, parents work themselves to exhaustion, to the point where they have barely time for their children, or at least, that’s the case with Kyo’s mom. And even when Kyo tries to express his feeling and thoughts, she dismisses them, thinking she knows what’s best for him. But does she? We don’t get an answer to that, exactly, but this book certainly gives enough food for thought.
Four Seasons in Japan is a slice-of-life kind of story where we get a glimpse into the life of a rural city through a boy who thinks he failed, and his grandmother who is determined not to fail. Into the life of a translator living in Japan coming from a different culture. We watch how their life changes as the seasons do. It’s not a long book, and I breezed through it in a weekend (a rare occurrence these days), as I was hardly able to put it down. Four Seasons in Japan could have been an excellent book, if it was better balanced between Flo and the story she is translating, giving both equal times to shine and breathe. Overall, I’m glad I picked this book up, and I’ll check out Nick Bradley‘s books in the future to see what he comes up with next.
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