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Thursday, March 8, 2018

REVIEW: Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan @soho_press @claireclaire05

by Clarissa Goenawan

Special thank you to Soho Press for this copy in return for my honest review.

Publisher:  Soho Press
Published:  March 6, 2018
336 pages
Genres:  Contemporary, Literary Fiction, Mystery

Goodreads Synopsis:

Clarissa Goenawan’s dark, spellbinding literary debut opens with a murder and shines a spotlight onto life in fictional small-town Japan.

Ren Ishida is nearly finished with graduate school when he receives news of his sister Keiko's sudden death. She was viciously stabbed one rainy night on her way home, and there are no leads. Ren heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister's affairs, still failing to understand why she chose to abandon the family and Tokyo for this desolate town years ago.

But Ren soon finds himself picking up where Keiko left off, accepting both her teaching position at a local cram school and the bizarre arrangement of free lodging at a wealthy politician’s mansion in exchange for reading to the man’s catatonic wife.

As he comes to know the figures in Akakawa, from the enigmatic politician to his fellow teachers and a rebellious, alluring student named Rio, Ren delves into his shared childhood with Keiko and what followed, trying to piece together what happened the night of her death. Haunted in his dreams by a young girl who is desperately trying to tell him something, Ren struggles to find solace in the void his sister has left behind.

My Review:

While the center of this story surrounds that death of Keiko, the main story is all about Ren and his way of coping with her death, the secrets that come to the surface and learning about himself.  

Set in a small town in Japan, what the author brings to the table is more of a contemporary, atmospheric read that submerses you into a culture you may not have understood before.  And by culture, I not only speak of Japan with the red bean pancakes (craving these now.. they're delicious!), but of the family dynamics that are interwoven not just through Ren's family but those of the sub-characters as well.

This isn't a fast-paced, suspenseful thriller as you may be expecting... but it is a fantastic literary fiction read with a touch of beautiful surrealism.  Ren's relationship with his sister is close, authentic and you can feel the bond as he reminisces about times that he had with her.  Things he couldn't understand as a child come to light as he learns more about her while going through her possessions and speaking with those who interacted with her.  We come to realize that no matter how close we are to someone, there are always things that are kept hidden.  Whether for the protection of the person that we are closest to or just because sometimes you just need your own secrets.  I did want a little bit more from the ending. While I can respect Ren's decision at the end of the day, I never got that closing that I wanted which left me a little bit wanting.  But I do think the story is more for his journey that for any kind of climatic finish.

Goenawan brings us a beautiful story in this debut.   While it's not a story I would probably typically pick up, I am so glad that I was afforded to opportunity to read this.  Not only is she a sweetheart to interact with via social media, she's also clearly a talented writer.  I do think that having and Asian  background helped me to bond a little more with this story and I hope that anybody else who picks this up will feel as touched as I did in reading this.


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