Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Asleep: Contemplating the color of slumber

Banana Yoshimoto paints pictures with words: pictures of interactions and pictures of emotions. I love her sparse yet evocative writing style. So when the University Library told me Asleep was available for pick-up, it went directly to the top of my TBR pile.

Asleep is the second collection of short stories by Yoshimoto I have read. As in Kitchen, Yoshimoto employs a young, female narrator in all the stories. And although the narrators’ lives and circumstances are very different, Yoshimoto binds the stories together through her exploration of the different aspect of sleep: healing, renewal, withdrawal and escape.

My favorite story in the collection, Night and Night’s Travelers focuses on the aftermath of the death of a young man, Yoshihiro, and the way the women who loved him deal with the loss. Yoshihiro’s lover, Mari, sleeps through most of the first year after his death, almost as though she is waiting for her life to begin again one morning. His sister Shibami, who narrates the story, remembers him as someone both comforting and mysterious.
”I kind of wonder if that wasn’t The Future, as my childish heart saw it. Back then my brother was something that definitely wouldn’t die, he was both night and something that traveled through night – something like that.”

Night isn’t scary in these stories. It’s a time for thought, and for individual reflection. For Yoshimoto, night provides introspection, allowing us to recharge ourselves for the externally-oriented day.

This collection is simply a pleasure to read. All of the stories have a dreamy, magical quality. Weather imagery suffuses the stories. Rain provides white noise; snow covers and quiets the houses like a blanket. The colors of night – blue, purple, black, silver – calm and cool the senses. I’d suggest curling up with a cup of tea – or a glass of port – and reading before bed time. It’s the kind of reading that soothes the soul.


  1. A little different to my review ;)

  2. I went back and read your post -- I think it was very fair. Isn't it interesting how what soothes some people ruffles others? I actually liked Love Song, but would agree it was the weakest of the three novellas. I do think that Yoshimoto does a great job at giving women in a very masculine society a voice. Your review did put South of the Border, West of the Sun on my TBR list, so many thanks!

  3. I haven't read Asleep yet, although my dear friend from childhood bought it for me earlier this summer. I love all the points that you drew out for us here: about the "healing, renewal, withdrawing, escape" we find through sleep, about the "dreamy magical quality" of the stories. While Winter is my favorite season, night is my favorite time of day, and I'm really looking forward to reading this novel. Thanks for your wonderful insights and reflections, Col, and for the way you make Japanese literature all the more enticing for me.

  4. Belleza, I have you to thank for venturing into Japanese literature in the first place, so I'm the one who should be thanking you! I feel so fortunate.


I absolutely love comments. Thanks for taking the time to share! Col