As book lovers everywhere know, personal library collections have a way of multiplying?seemingly of their own accord. This novel is based on just such a fanciful notion?that books mate and give birth to “phantom” offspring whose pages are filled with the histories of people who live in the future.
The cleverly wrought work is structured as the biography of the peerless book collector Yojirō Fukai, penned by his grandson Hiroshi Doi in order to pass the family history down to Hiroshi’s own young son, Keitarō.
There is a long-standing rule in the Fukai household that books are not to be moved from their established spots. When Hiroshi, at age nine, visits his grandfather’s mansion, he takes Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story from its designated place on the shelf and sticks it next to a volume containing Jean Paul Sartre’s novel Nausea and his story collection The Wall. The next morning a phantom book entitled Neverending Retching against the Wall is born, and begins flapping about the room. Yojirō manages to capture it. Once he stamps it with the ex-libris seal carved from ivory that he uses to mark his collection, the book stops its fluttering and comes to rest. Yojirō tells Hiroshi that the seal was made from the tusk of a sacred white elephant with wings and six legs that exists only in Borneo. The story traces the interconnected destinies of this flying elephant and the Fukai family, and the 50-year marriage of the inseparable Yojirō and his artist wife, Miki.
In 1986, the 70-something Yojirō is in a domestic airline crash. Though mortally injured, he is able to save the young brother and sister pair sitting next to him before breathing his last. At that very moment, back at his home, all of the phantom volumes Yojirō has collected take flight to the south. The brother and sister he saved turn out to be the only two survivors of the accident. Three years later, Sanae, the sister, meets Hiroshi at a memorial service. Afterward, she writes him a letter about her memories of the crash scene. She describes radiant mushrooms growing all around, and a flying white elephant that arrived to save her and her brother. Sanae and Hiroshi subsequently marry; their firstborn son is Keitarō.
Ten years later, the elephant reappears. Miki grieved deeply following her husband’s death, but after surviving a stroke, she discovers that her dyslexia has gone away, and she begins reading voraciously among the books he had left behind in his library. Her family gathers to celebrate her 77th birthday. That night the elephant appears, Miki dies, and the phantom books that she had stamped with her own seal all fly away.
In a delightful and satisfying twist, the story itself is presented as one of the phantom books it describes, and offers many other touches that will appeal to bibliophiles everywhere.