It's my turn on the TLC Book Tour to tell you all about RAINBIRDS by Clarissa Goenawan! Keep reading for the synopsis and my full review...
SYNOPSIS: 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.
GENRE: Fiction, Japan, Mystery, Recent History
RATING: ★★★☆☆/ 3 Stars
REVIEW: RAINBIRDS is listed as a mystery novel. The synopsis clearly outlines a mystery. The beginning pages all point to some great mystery to be solved… so I was a bit confused when there was no eagerness or earnestness in our main character to solve said murder. Sure he arrives in town to take care of his late sister’s affairs, and he speaks with the lead detective to get the details on the case, but then rather quickly it seems as if the murder itself doesn’t even matter. The mystery element of this book seems to fall behind into a second or third plot point and makes way for a roundabout coming-of-age story.
It wasn’t bad necessarily; it was just odd the way the story progressed.
It’s set in June 1994, in a small fictional town in Japan. The atmosphere that the author creates is incredibly intriguing. The secondary characters, the locations, and the way that they all interact, was imaginative and promising. There were some beautifully written sections and segments but there were also times when it fell emotionally flat. The story does have a nice flow to it though and it reads rather quickly.
RAINBIRDS ends up being mostly about a young man coming to terms with his past, present, and future. He’s been in noncommittal life limbo. And he reminisces about all the girls in his life, mostly romantic or sexual encounters… but that also segues into his relationship with his sister through the years. The sister who was, in ways, a mother to him as well as a friend, and possibly the ideal to which he has been subconsciously comparing all those other girls. Honestly, Ren wasn’t an overly likeable character. His actions in the past and present don’t do much to endear you to him. But you are left with some hope for his future.
While it was an up and down reading experience for me, I did like it well enough to give it three stars, and might have given it four stars but about halfway through, some of the wording started grate. This was a book that was written in English and while some sections gave a genuine feeling of Japanese translation and tone, others felt overly forced and rang false. And while the mystery elements of the murder are eventually solved, the way in which it occasionally skipped in and out of the story just didn’t work for me.
Overall, I think it was just a matter of finding the right reader to connect with this book, and while I liked parts of it, I don’t think I was the right reader. I know there will be others that will greatly enjoy it and find all the right notes within the pages.
*I received a free copy of Rainbirds from the publisher to participate in the TLC Book Tour, and provide an honest review.*
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About Clarissa Goenawan
Clarissa Goenawan is an Indonesian-born Singaporean writer. Her award-winning short fiction has appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in Singapore, Australia, the UK, and the US. Rainbirds is her first novel.
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