An unconventional novel about a married couple and their two children, told from multiple points of view?most prominently that of their five-year-old son, from whose not entirely juvenile perspective such themes as family, life and death, and love are addressed in a fresh new way.
The Tsuzukis are a family of four. Kōsaku, 47, is a television producer, and his wife of nine years, Nao, is a stay-at-home housewife. They have a seven-year-old daughter, Ikumi, now in the second grade, and a five-year-old son, Takuto, attending kindergarten. Kōsaku had been linked romantically with multiple actresses and other celebrities before his marriage, and he still has a mistress now. Besides spending a lot of time away on location, he also often stays at his lover’s house, so he rarely comes home for more than a few days at a time. In spite of this, Nao loves her husband too much to file for divorce, and Kōsaku has no desire to end the marriage either: limited as it is, he enjoys the time he has with his children. Daughter Ikumi is a vivacious, talkative girl, and loves her little brother deeply. Son Takuto was slow to acquire language and still talks very little, but he is fond of insects and other creatures and has an unusual power to communicate with them. The story centers on this boy, portraying the family and others he interacts with largely through his eyes. As such the limited range of his activities?his home and surrounding neighborhood, including a nearby park and cemetery?circumscribes the world of the novel. Events that take place within this small realm over the course of roughly one year are described with evocative charm.
Takuto also feels a special empathy for two grownups who live cut off from the world. One of them is Yasuo Kojima, 50, a caretaker at the cemetery. Once married, now divorced, he has no children. Until four years ago he lived with his mother, but since her death he has been entirely alone, has few social contacts, and rarely speaks to anyone except the dead. The other is Shino Nozaki, the mother of the woman Takuto and his sister take piano lessons from. After marrying her hardworking and faithful husband, she carried on an adulterous affair that went on for nine years, and even during the turmoil after her daughter’s fiancé breaks off their engagement, all she can think about is her own former lover. Communicating wordlessly with these two figures, Takuto is able to tune in to their loneliness and show them his love in ways no one else can understand.
The story has no major dramatic events apart from an instance when Takuto gets lost on his way to see Yasuo and a confrontation between Nao and her husband’s lover. Mediated by Takuto’s unusual sensibilities, the daily pursuits of people are quietly set against the daily pursuits of insects and plants. Author Kaori Ekuni’s versatility and virtuosity as a writer are on full display in this work that seems sure to claim a place as one of her most important.