Title: Sweet Bean Paste
Author: Durian Sukegawa
Translator: Alison Watts
Genre: Contemporary, Cultural, Japan, Asia
Publisher: ONEWorld Publications
Date published: November 14, 2017
Page Count: 209
A physical copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher and Raincoast Books, in exchange for an honest review.
Sentaro has failed: he has a criminal record, drinks too much, and hasn’t managed to fulfil his dream of becoming a writer. Instead, he works in a confectionery shop selling dorayaki, a type of pancake filled with a sweet paste made of red beans. With only the blossoming of the cherry trees to mark the passing of time, he spends his days listlessly filling the pastries. Until one day an elderly, handicapped woman enters the shop. Tokue makes the best bean paste imaginable, and begins to teach Sentaro her art. But as their friendship flourishes, societal prejudices become impossible to escape, in this quietly devastating novel about the burden of the past and the redemptive power of friendship.
– MY REVIEW –
Sweet Bean Paste is one of the shortest books that I have ever read. Despite its small size though, it is very full of wisdom and emotion. Rather than reading it in one sitting (as I had predicted that I would, due to its short length), I really took my time with Sweet Bean Paste, really savouring it, and giving everything time to sink in.
Because I’ve been exposed to Japanese films, TV shows, and anime for most of my life (and probably because I’ve also been to Japan twice now), reading this book in English was strange for me! I would not have been able to read it if it had been in Japanese, but it was just that I guess I got so used to hearing Japanese and absorbing their meaning through subtitles … well I guess the Japanese audio was missing? Haha. Words like “boss” I would read in English, but my brain would translate into the Japanese taichou (たいちょう, 体長). I don’t even know if that’s the word that was used in the Japanese version of the book, but … that’s what my brain was doing. I think that the best way for me to explain it is that I read this book in the way that I would have watched a Japanese film dubbed in English.
This of course is by no means a complaint about the book. I’m just explaining my brain’s strange habits. Considering how much time elapses in the story, the pacing was very well done. I did not at any point feel frustrated, and wanting things to move along more quickly. I can of course not judge Sukegawa’s writing, since I was exposed to a translation, but I did like the essence of the original author that shone through the English translation. Having had to translate things a number of times in my life, I can only commend Alison Watts for translating a book from Japanese to English (two languages that have almost nothing in common.)
I am not sure if I can comment on how effective the setting descriptions were, because I’ve been to Tokyo, and I can transport myself there and see the streets and shops and trees and trains with very little effort. This book made me feel very nostalgic and got me thinking about another Japan trip! (I was actually looking at AirBnBs in Okinawa yesterday!)
There was definitely character development in this book, and the manner in which the book was written makes you warm up to characters a little more slowly … but then by the end, they just stick with you. I became quite invested in the lives of Tokue and Sentaro (and also a little bit in the life of the school girl who interacts with them, although I forget her name). Through these characters, and how their lives intertwine, Sukegawa drives home points about prejudice, human relationships, and not only forgiving others, but also the importance of forgiving oneself.
– THE AUTHOR –
Durian Sukegawa studied oriental philosophy at Waseda University, before going on to work as a reporter in Berlin and Cambodia in the early 1990s. He has written a number of books and essays, TV programmes and films. He lives in Tokyo.
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THANK YOU FOR READING MY BOOK REVIEW! HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK? WHAT DID YOU THINK? AND IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT YET, DO YOU WANT TO, OR NOT? HOW COME? LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS BELOW!