margaret atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)

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Although I often go from books to movies, I cannot remember having gone from movies to books. There are always these people who say that in the books, the story was a lot different and the movies cannot possibly depict what they have read, however, for me it is more of a spoiler thing that when I already know what has happened from a movie, I do not feel so intrigued to actually go through a slow version of finding out as well.

This book, however, I saw 3 out of 10 series of first, before reading it, and the reason for reading was the weekly wait to find out what will happen. Really hate it when they release one episode at a time.. So I just started reading, and found that they have changed quite a bit in the series, as expected.. And there are weird hidden layers in the series that never happened in the book, so I am just wondering how would they play it out until the end.

It was, as I anticipated, boring to read the parts I already knew from the series, but otherwise I loved the story. I have had quite a break from reading like crazy in the beginning of the year, so although the book was short, it was really enjoyable and inspired me to explore more of the author’s work. I think it is also very much ahead of its time, and especially in the light of Trump being the president, and the conservative methods and views brought to the light so openly again.

The book could have easily been written today about the future, and it could have not been any more relevant than it is now, written already more than 50 years ago. The parts that I specifically enjoyed were the sort of silent monologues the protagonist was having, thinking to herself or talking about and analysing the situation in the society and the human nature. At times I almost felt these thoughts were genius and I would have loved to quote them somewhere because they felt extremely relevant.

What I did not understand so much was the protagonist’s need to apologise in advance for what she was about to say because I did not find her life choices bad at all given her circumstances.

For example, falling in love with Nick, the car driver, and having sex with him which she felt ashamed of only seemed like a natural course of action to me.. At times she would also say something like “I do not want to write about this part” or something similar, and the writing style would become jumpy, thoughtful, filled with spaces and the reader was left to put together their own story. I think the series or a film is not really conveying these thoughts through at all, and all the pieces are given. For example, the series starts with the scene where the protagonist and her husband Luke and their child escape after crashing the car, and the child is taken away and Luke is shot. In the book, how this all happened is explained in pieces at different times.. The way the situation escalated to all this, and the actual how in the end is not described that well. It seems to be a painful part to remember.

Although the series shows some of the glimpses from the past and the escalation of events, there are still some questionmarks. For example, it is emphasised in the book how this situation became almost necessary because of the violence from men, and that now women are protected. But men are somehow still in power? Actually, it is hard to say who is actually in power because everyone is watched and there is some sort of a cult or a movement or region that controls it all.

The theme of loss and dealing with it is also a very strong notion in the book. What keeps the protagonist alive and not killing herself apart from the fact that it is made as hard as possible? She mentions plenty of times the ways to kill herself.. She finds out how her predecessor did it, and she also seems to have more and more liberty to find opporunities how. She keeps thinking about the important people in her life and clings to them, doing it for them. For example, the strongest figure of resistment for her is her friend Moira. She has no idea what happened to her but she hopes she is alive and fighting for her freedom somewhere. She even hopes her husband Luke is alive somewhere. In fact, she creates three different potential scenarios for where Luke is, and hopes that either he is not in pain and was killed quickly, or that he is still somewhere, beaten up but alive. When she gets offered a chance to see a picture of her daughter who is alive but moved on with her life, she gets worse because she realises that life goes on for the daughter and she might not even remember her mother.

She does the clinging to lost people while she does not have anything in her real life, but as things get more interesting with the intrigues between the Commander, the Wife and both of their games’ middleman Nick, she almost forgets and pushes those lost people to the back. Except for with Nick, with whom she feels like she betrays her probably dead husband. She doesn’t feel that with the ceremony but if it is out of her free will, she does.

Fulfilling her physical needs, she forgets about fighting for the bigger cause. She forgets the Handmaid she is walking in pairs with, the representative of the resentment who is trying to involve her, and wants her to get information for the resentment. She is not interested in helping, she is too involved with her personal pleasure and meddling in the household.

There are some parts that make me really curious about why they decided to do the series in a way that would not match at all with the book. The part is about the fellow Handmaid from resentment or “MayDay”. In the series, that person is shown to be removed for being gay, but it is not entirely clear if she actually gets killed. We see that her wife gets hanged, but she is driven away in a car. Where? In the book, she apparently hangs herself in the end because the Eyes would have found out about the resentment, or this is what the new replacement says. This brings a question of trust in the book – how do we know that this is what actually happened? It’s only the new person’s word and anything else could have been the cause for the sudden disappearance. Also, in the book, there is a ceremony where 3 women get hanged and the Handmaiden’s are allowed to kill a guy who apparently raped a pregnant woman. This scene is quite in the beginning in the series, and women are not hanged and the protagonist is the first to go for killing the man to assumably get rid of some of the anger from finding out her friend Moira is dead (who in the book isn’t!).

In the book, it is her partner, the other handmaiden, who hits the guy the most because they are from the same resistment movement, and she wanted to knock him out to save him from pain.

I’m looking forward to see how they will make sense out of this mess in the series and this has made me wonder, whether I should read all of the books from series that are based on books to understand how the original has been played around it.

 

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mark haddon: the curious incident of the dog in the night-time (2002)

It is extremely refreshing to read something new and more relevant once in a while. I do enjoy reading the Victorian novels, and I am not saying that they are not relevant, it is just that it is good to get some change and see that the today’s society can also produce great books among all the cheap bestsellers that are complete junk. No offence to 50 shades of gray readers but really. It is crap. Although I must say that the older books often fail to talk about the problems of the contemporary society triggered by the advanced technology so accessible to everyone and the social issues this brings about.

The other day I heard or saw a commerical or an advert that encouraged people to look up their phones every now and then and really notice the people around them. Also, to come out of the social media bubble and actually meet people. Sometimes I feel like I myself have this “social overload” feeling caused by the fact that I am always accessible on Facebook chat, and people ask me favous and need things, and share things. I do not really fancy going out and physically meeting them anymore. After all, there is not so much to talk about anymore – I have seen all the news though Facebook or they have already updated me on chat. Only the people who are not so active online seem to be interesting these days. Think about this issue and think 10 years ago. Would have seemed like a show from black mirror, or some sort of an utopic novel to think that adverts to become more social and not spend your time only behind the computer screen. Also, listening to the radio the other day, the question was asked that what are the biggest problems of society today. And a guy said that the fact that there is TOO much information that you need to filter. I still remember my classes in basic school when I had to write essays and I had this one book, an encyclopedia of sorts, and this was the only source of information I had – perhaps some other books in the library on the topic, and then I did have my 3 sources for the essay. A nicely written summary of the little these books provided on the subject. Now there is so much information that when searching for something, you first have to doubt whether it is a reliable source, then you are just frustrated that there is too much info, and then you selectively ready some views, and close to the deadline find out of a completely different side of the story, and then you are just going crazy because you are not sure which theory to argue over because both have good points. Rant over. I love contemporary books and talking about these issues. Although this book was not about a contemporary issue per se, but perhaps something that would have not been talked about in the past that much and that openly. The book is written by an autistic 15-year old in a meta style, because he writes how he is writing this book.

The book is so honest and direct and simple that it really gets through to you. I have this thing for platonic and direct people which could be called a love-hate relationship. Sometimes I really hate it when people are too direct (especially when it is unnecessarily stupid and they ae just being rude), but a lot of the times it is so liberating and great to talk to such people. The book in its style of plain drawings, mathemathical quizzes and concreteness is very powerful.

I found a totally alternative way of thinking in it being an overthinker myself. Often, when someone says something, we made our deductions and we jump into conclusions and do not ask for further explanations or anything because we have made up our minds. Well, Christopher, the autistic boy in the book, does not make any conclusions based on people’s vague statements at all, and always asks for clarifications. Although in real life, if someone constantly did that, it would probably drive you crazy, in the book it was almost comical. Why don’t we actually do that?

George Orwell: Animal farm (1945)

I had a flashback to 1984 (another book by Orwell, not the year!) when I read this book. The development of power relations and communism, lies and twisting of the truth (alternative facts!).

The book is so reflective of human stupidity and instincts that it kind of made me sad. You recognise the ways in which some people are able to see an opporunity to take power, and the tactics to keep themselves in power. In the end, it is still the lowest class or the ones suffering the most who empower the people by blindly following them and not questioning the decisions. In the book, it was pointed out that some animals were just too stupid to even learn the alphabet past the letter B, and this was an easy way to just state whatever the more clever animals wanted.

Propaganda, finding a common enemy, erasing the past or twisting the facts to the benefit of the pigs – all worked miracles to keep the animals oberying the elite.

I felt really sorry for the personality type that the horse Boxer was presenting. The most hard-working, loyal and useful of all animals who was in the end sent to the slaughterhouse. This proves that even if you follow the system blindly and do everything in your power, you will be used, and you cannot get anything out of it. The only way out is rebelling or manipulation on a higher level.

The Windmill war in the farm really reflected on what I imagine motivated the soldiers to fight during world wars. Nothing is actually won, and the war has created great loss but the big celebrations give a feeling as if something great had happened.

Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)

I was in Maastricht for a couple of days to give some workshops, and the last day, when waiting for the others to get ready after breakfast and having an hour to spare, I decided to go for a little walk around. That is when I discovered this awesome bookshop inside a catherdal, and acting upon emotions and feeling like I should treat myself, bought the book.

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I’m surprised I had not got to Vonnegut earlier, because I remember a lot of my friends being fans of him during high school. When I started the book, I really enjoyed it and thought it would be good, but I guess I was somewhat disapointted when the “actual book” within a book started because AGAIN, it was more symbolic and sounded like a lot of gibberish at times. Nevertheless, I was devouring the book quite fast given the free time I had, so I can say I enjoyed it.

The main character of the book was Billy Pilgrim, who was a conflicting figure for me because I couldn’t decide whether I liked him or not. He was naive and stupid in war and seemed useless, but at the same time I felt sorry for him because no one is born to go to war, and he did not wish to live and be a burden so all of his survival is kind of an accident. His timetravel around and encounter with extraterrestrial creatures stating that everything is already ordered and cannot be changed added an interesting twist to the story. The book always spoilt the future by claiming things like.. this person is going to die then and there. So you would always have a glimpse into the timetravel and know what was the outcome, although not necessarily how it would happen. The book gave a really good idea what war can do to someone’s brain. Billy seemed damaged whereas others were trying to find profit in war and good things (looting off dead bodies and also writing a book on the bombing).

William Golding: Lord of the Flies (1954)

 

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This symbolic book describes through the lives of the children on a desolated island how humanity can turn into savagery. I’m not actually such a big fan of symbolic books, but I seem to read more and more of these recently. I was not really hooked to the book and it went really slowly, but in a way I also enjoyed it.

When reading some analysis of the book, it talks about innocence and turning into savages, and how the different characters portray these different traits. I guess what I really noticed in the beginning of the book was that all characters in the book were male. I wonder how different it could have been, if amongst the children on the island, there would have also been some girls. The role division would have probably been more biased towards gender-defined roles by the civilisation the boys were coming from, and the development could have been very different.

The book here dealt with a lot of uncertainty in terms of power relations. Who would lead the group and what would be the main objective of their daily tasks? Was it important to keep the signal fire to get noticed by passing ships and get rescued, or enjoy life, hunt and try to make the best of the stay?

I also thought it was strange how there was a clear division between the young kids and the older ones. The fact that nobody really cared about the young ones running around can also reflect the fact that the “mother instinct” was missing, and everybody was more selfish than caring of the others.

In the end, when Ralph had to run from the group of savages and ended up being saved by grown-ups who were also men, I felt like there was something also missing by the rescuers. When Ralph started crying, there was this awkwardness of not understanding the situation and not being able to respond appropiately.

 

Ken Kesey: One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest (1962)

Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn,
Wire, briar, limber lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew East
One flew West
And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest

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When I started reading the book, I did not quite get into it right away because of the style of writing. The book that I had read before had full complex sentences, whereas this one seemed to have been written almost in slang or very simply. I would definitely not call it one of my favourite books, but I still enjoyed it in the end.

I read a bit of some online analysis of the book to get a second perspective and focused on the topic of feminine/masculine power. All the people in the hospital were men, and power was given to the women, specifically to the head nurse, who was depicted as an evil, power-hungry and strong woman. Although the book was strongly biased in a way which made the reader feel empathy towards the patients, I tried to also see another more objective perspective. In a way, the patients are de-humanized and looked at in terms of work, trouble, and routine for the head nurse. She also realises that giving them too much power will result in complications, and that there are always people who seek trouble. Still, the method to tame the troublesome patients of the time were questionable – the machines with electric power seemed to make zombies out of the living, but was that something that the doctors and nurses really thought was genuinely the only solution or just a method to get rid of the annoyance?

There was some mentioning of the fact that the head nurse had done this job for too long and had grown cold and indifferent and mean in the process. It was said that for that position, it would be good if there was change of people in order to still care about the cause and try and do one’s best. I feel that this is true for so many positions.. also teachers, for example, who get to greet new students every year, and are in an endless loop, unless they choose to take on new challenges, educate themselves more, and to try and be innovative. The protagonist had been in the hospital the longest, and noticed different tendencies in the head nurse’s behaviour and how she had changed over the years.

Although the book seemed a little slow to begin with, it really picked up in the end and got really intense. The protagonist’s descriptions, which often seemed a little unreliable to begin with describing all the blur that no one else seemed to notice and the actions at night, got more clear towards the end. I felt sorry for McMurphy when he was turned into a vegetable but with the book developing this way, the protagonist killing McMurphy to releive him was probably the best solution.

 

George Orwell: 1984 (1949)

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I had wanted to read Orwell for a while, but I think what really made me go for it was someone’s meme on Facebook that said that they had moved the book from fiction to reality. I was curious to see what could have caused that.. and also, I just happened to see that the English literature was really cheap in London airport, so treated myself to a couple of books!

I quite liked the book to begin with because I was curious to see how everything would be fixed, and to know more about how things were made to work in this communistic world. At times it also got a little dull with the everyday doings of the protagonist which did not seem to lead anywhere. Winston Smith, in describing his frustrations with the world which seemed almost impossible to find a solution to if not for a revolution often seemed really irrational, which made me upset in my thinking that sometimes he really just risked too much, but then again, I would not know what my mental state would be if I had to live like this in a world that strange and unfair.

The concept was interesting – making people not feel emotional about anything, and making the language a lot easier, changing the past and constantly being at war. When Winston and Julia read “The Book” explaining the system, the ideas seemed almost brilliant to control people and to maintain the world in the order, and I really thought there would be some sort of a way out of this by starting the revolution with the proles.

The torturing process in the Ministry of Love and the examination of how a person can be destroyed was also interesting but I must say I was so disapointted with the end result which showed that Winston had been turned into a vegetable like everyone else. In a way, it was bliss, of course, because being intelligent and trying to fight the system was tormenting and tiring, if not impossible, so for Winston it would have been the best to just go with the flow.. Ignorance is bliss, as they would say. Then again, from an intelligent mind, this is so troubling and paining, that people prefer to go the easy way because it is more convenient, and less troublesome than fighting the system and going against the flow. Just shows how human nature is in the end though, and how your complex mental state can be totally broken and turned into a limp useless organ working for the collective being.

Harper Lee: Go Set a Watchman (2015)

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So, I was coming back from the Christmas holidays and feeling a bit sad about having to return to work and routine again, felt like having a treat, so I bought myself this book from the Stockholm airport while waiting for transfer. I hadn’t really heard of this book because the fame and glory seems to be taken by ‘How to Kill a Mockingbird’. I love sequels so it was great to read about the familiar characters again. I think with the mockingbird book, I complained how unrealistic it was that a small girl, the protagonist, was too smart and political for her age. Well, now she was 26 and it made more sense, and somehow I could relate to her much more, being  25-year old living far from home myself. And also being a bigot!

Whereas with mockingbird it felt like the book had a lot of layers, and secret learning goals hidden behind the different things the kids went though, this one seemed more like one direct message to give out obviously though Dr.Finch’s strange lectures and comments. I am not sure how effective I thought his methods were and that I would have been convinced after getting a slap that would have almost knocked me over though. I am just very surprised that it was taken so easily, and as a learning curve by Scout that her uncle hit her. For me, this would have been pouring petrol into fire, and I would have probably never come back and talked to any of them again.

Well, from the beginning, when the book described the feelings Scout had when returning home on a train, I often felt this sensation before when going home more rarely as well. Returning home, you often find that everything should be as you left it, and it feels very upsetting to see that people are going on with their lives and there are some changes. I did not understand much the courtship Scout had, and did not think it added too much to the plot as I would find it very unlikely that living away for so long, and visiting rarely, you would be able to maintain this kind of relationship without developing another in your daily life, but hey, this is America in the close past.

I think the book did actually make me think of how I myself can never agree and understand that other people have other opinions that seem so wrong to me. I just have to go and argue and I hate it when people come up with racist or sexist or any -ist comments of sorts and then justify these things with invalid arguments or though demagogy. I think I am similar to Scout in that I need to understand that not everyone has experienced and seen what I have to form my view of the world as it is, and perhaps there is no concrete right and wrong.. or.. even if there is, everybody still is entitled to their own view, and there is nothing you can do about it when they are stubborn as well, and want to believe what they believe.

 

Arthur Golden: Memoirs of Geisha (1997)

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I started looking for something to read again after feeling completely bored at work, and first thought about buying a lot of books from Amazon, to try and keep up with my resolution for myself to read more this year. I remembered how in the spring, I was reading books online or though PDFs and as it is way more accessible (and also discreet at work!) to read the books this way, I started Memoirs of Geisha, inspired by one of those lists “100 books you should read”.

I felt captivated from the beginning and read two days straight with barely being able to “put the book down”. The story is about a little Japanese girl who, together with her sister, is sold from her family living in a small fishing village, to an okiya which is a geisha boarding house. Her sister, not found to be that appealing in her appearance is sold to be a prostitute and soon escapes never to be seen again.

The girl, with her real same Chiyo, feels no motivation to pursue the path to become a geisha first because of having been taken from her family and being treated nastily by the only geisha of the okiya who has a lot of power but feels threatened by Chiyo’s beauty and seeming cleverness. After her attempt to escape with her sister, all hope seems to be lost, but as she hears of her parents’ death, her sister’s successful escape and meets a man on the street who is kind to her (Chairman), she decides to try to succeed in doing more with her life than just being a maid.

All of a sudden, she starts getting help from a rival of the geisha living in her okiya, Mamesha, who is a well-known geisha doing really well, and Chiyo starts her studies again in hope to meet the Chairman in the future. There are a lot of men taking interest in Chiyo, and once she becomes a geisha apprentice,  she has two men bidding for her virginity, which provides good enough income to pay her debts in the okiya.

There are, of course, many problems coming her way, starting from the evil geisha living in the same house with her who is deemed to get her, and also the developments between the different men, and her own feelings towards the Chairman, but she becomes successful and is doing well.

The book was revolving a lot around destiny, reading horoscope and relying on chance, and there was always this feeling that no matter how hopeless the situation, everything would probably be OK in the end. Also because the book started with the notion where the first-person narrator, Chiyo or then with her geisha name Sayuri, talks about how she became geisha, there was no doubt about that she would become one even in the most hopeless of situations.

Probably some of the most fascinating parts for me where the daily rituals and habits of geishas and the ways they had to dress, put on make up, and even walk and talk. I could imagine the tea ceremonies, dance performances and even tiny steps as something not very attractive in the European culture, and imagined some of the things very peculiar. At the same time, I really enjoyed reading about beautiful costumes, and how much effort they took and thought how reserved the girls must have been, even from the fact that they had to sleep on a sort of neck supporter not to ruin their hair which was often made for the whole week. Also the fact, that there were professionals, and mostly men, to help with tieing the costume – really something that I was totally unaware of.

At some point, I was walking home from work after having read another chapter in the bus on my way back, and looked around me and thought that all the contemporary people must have felt like peasants in that country room because of how little attention we pay to our clothes, make-up and hair. Then again, the book made the geisha life come back to reality during the hardships of the second worldwar during which the geisha district was shut down, and geishas had to take up jobs in factories and as prostitutes.

Sometimes, I felt very disturbed to read the book, anticipating the worst to come towards Sayuri because not all books are the happily-ever-after types, and I imagined a lot of horrible things would happen. At these times, I found it ever hard to continue – such was the moment, when Mamesha’s patron, the Paron, invited Sayuri to his summerhouse for the cherryblossom party, sent everyone away and wanted her to go to his quarters to try on a present. I thought he was going to rape her and since she was still a virgin and her way of making it as a successful geisha was to sell her virginity or mizuage. Fortunately this did not happen, almost as if the whole story was a fairy-tale after all, but I am pretty sure that typically girls do not get that lucky.

In the end, the prince charming rescued Sayuri from all troubles and she moved to America, which was actually a rather disapointting and too much of a flowey rather than sophisticated end, but given that the author was interviewing a real geisha and based a lot of the story on real life, I wonder how much of this fairytale is actually true. After all, it is called a historical novel. However, as it turns out, the geisha who was interviewed wrote her own novel as an autobiography, supposedly very different to that story, so perhaps this could be my next novel in my fascination with Japan these days.

Murakami: Norwegian Wood

 

Published in 1987, the novel stands out in Murakami’s writings because it is, in contrast to his other novels, very realistic, without the usual dream-like element.

This was the first of the 3 books I read from Murakami, and I think one of his most popular books he has written. The general plot is quite dark and melanholic. It seems that suicides plaster the book and surround the main character Toru Watanbe.

The book starts with the protagonist sitting in the plane, about to land in Frankfurt, explaining the emptyness he feels inside, the fact that he is starting to forget, so he has to remind himself, or write down about what happened to him in the past. From thereon, the present protagonist does not return, and the book goes back into when he was a teenager.

Watanbe’s best friend commits suicide when he is 17. As explained to me later by some people, suicide is not something that is shameful in Japan. It almost seems like the right and honourable thing to do, and as seems to be the case for Murakami’s other books as well, staying eternally young that way could be one of the reasons. The friend leaves behind a heart-broken girlfriend with whom they have been very close since childhood. The girl, Naoko, is very fragile and on the verge of mental breakdown. As it turns out later in the book, she has also witnessed another suicide of a close person, her sister, who was doing well in her life, but somehow decided to end her life before turning 18.

Watanbe and Naoko are both broken inside because of Kizuki’s suicide, and both move away from home to Tokyo to study. On Naoko’s 18th birthday, Watanbe sleeps with her, after which she moves into a desolated alternative hospital, to get treatment for her mental distress. She has a roommate who watches after her, Reiko Ishida, who has a dark past herself.

On his visits to Naoko, Watanbe learns more about Reiko and gets very close to her. Reiko is an older woman, with a child and a divorced marriage in her past, but she is fully devoted to taking care of Naoko.

A sudden plot twist in the end, when Naoko commits suicide, Watanbe sleeps with Reiko.

The book has a lot of psychological elements, reflecting on the fear of growing up and the attempts to end one’s life while it is still in perfection. Watanbe makes some curious friends, who all have different problems that they try to overcome. Unless they commit suicide, the future of these people is unclear as Watanbe loses sight of them.

For example, he has a roommate called Storm Trooper who is a perfectionist, with clear plans in mind on who he wants to be and what to do, likes cleaning and steady exercise, but doesn’t, all of a sudden, return to the dorm after the summer break. Storm Trooper is important for Watanbe, because he seems like this out of place, naive element in Watanbe’s life, who has clear directions and doesn’t realise being a joke to the surrounding people. It feels like Watanbe thinks he knows Storm Trooper inside out, and doesn’t analyse his way of being in depth, and realises how little he knew of the guy when he vanishes. For all we know, he might have also suffered from deep depression, could have had some serious problems at home, but we only see the comical surface.

Then, there’s Watanbe’s classmate Midori, who keeps lying about things in her life, to sound more careless than she is. She lies that her father escaped to Africa, and left her and her sister alone to look after the bookshop, claiming she didn’t really like him anyway. Then it turns out that the father is in the hospital, dying. Watanbe meets the father and takes care of him one afternoon, just days before he dies. Midori is in love with Watanbe and willing to wait for him, however, after Naoko’s death, Watanbe is unable to return to Midori and grows alien from everyone. The book ends with him trying to reach Midori, but not being heard, as if he has fallen to a deep coma that he is unable to get out of.

What happened to him between the death of Naoko and flying on the plane to Frankfurt, and how did he manage to survive with the depression remains a mystery. He doesn’t want to forget about Naoko, remembering when they were walking and Naoko asked him not to forget her, and it almost seems like the rest of the characters in the re-telling of the past were just side elements, although Naoko didn’t, other than mentally, play a huge part in his life. She was mostly away, too disturbed to write letters. But they shared one trauma that brought them closer.