Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto, Michael Emmerich (Translation)


Paperback, 186 pages
Published 2002 by Grove Press
Source: Library

“Love is the kind of thing that’s already happening by the time you notice it, that’s how it works, and no matter how old you get, that doesn’t change. Except that you can break it up into two entirely distinct types — love where there’s an end in sight and love where there isn’t.”

Goodbye Tsugumi is a gentle book. It’s like a calm seashore. It has the potential to become a raging sea but it remains calm. The titular character is the narrator, Maria’s cousin and she is what a mean girl would look like if one were to go near one and poke them. Tsugumi is precocious and beautiful. She curses like a sailor and she speaks like a world weary woman. I guess having death waiting in the eaves gives her an excuse to speak as she would. She’s also beautiful and remarkably frail.

What I found fascinating about this novel, though I wouldn’t call it YA in the North American sense of the world, is the absence of jealousy and envy which is always present when two women are present in the same scene in a novel. Just think about it. The protagonist is either insecure about her looks when the mean girl is present or is indulgent and patronizing when the best friend is present. This novel does not have that. There is a selflessness about the main character that struck me as curious. She talks about Tsugumi, narrating her terrible attitude and the way she is irresistible to boys but there’s no judgment in her tone at all. There is a boy present in the novel and were it North American YA, both girls would immediately be interested in him and he would be interested in the protagonist while the best friend pouted and plotted on the side.

“Every time I look into his eyes I just want to take the ice cream or whatever I’ve got in my hand and rub it into his face. That’s how much I like him.”

In this novel, Maria does not even consider him as boyfriend material and there is never any discussion of her own love affairs. Of course I found it a bit unsettling because it is so different from what I am so used to. At the same time, I understood that because Tsugumi is larger than life, she somehow soaks up everything with her presence–she’s like a meteor and no matter how much you shine, you cannot help but pale beside her. Interestingly enough, this does not provoke the jealousy I expected in Maria, rather, she becomes the moon–paler, but not less beautiful for her serenity. The story is not about romance though. It is about the relationship between the two girls and not in an explicit way. You glean their friendship from their conversations, from their exchanges and from what is not said.

This book may not be long but it contains one of the most beautiful stories I have read. About friendship, about life and about death as well. I recommend it.

“Each one of us continues to carry the heart of each self we’ve ever been, at every stage along the way, and a chaos of everything good and rotten. And we have to carry this weight all alone, through each day that we live. We try to be as nice as we can to the people we love, but we alone support the weight of ourselves.”