★ ★ ★ ★
Clarissa Goenawan’s second novel, The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida expands upon the world of Rainbirds, her debut novel. There is simplicity yet depth and elegance when it comes to her prose that is refreshing and something that I appreciate about her writing style. So it was no surprise when I read the entirety of this novel within 5 hours while sick in bed. I would like to thank Clarissa Goenawan and Soho Press for sending me an advanced copy.
It follows three friends of Miwako, a Tokyo university student, who seek to understand why she disappeared to a remote village and committed suicide. Before going further into the review just yet, I want to put a disclaimer that the book does obviously involved suicide and death, which is clear in the synopsis, but also sexual assault. It is not detailed, but it is mentioned so I just want to state that for those who would like to know prior to reading.
The story is told through three parts and character perspectives—Ryusei, Chie, and Fumi, who are all trying to understand what lead Miwako to make the decision she did and what was going on in her life prior to that day. Each part offers a different perspective, but also allows the reader to see the facade Miwako altered depending on who she was around to hide what she was going through. It alternates between past and present, so we also get a glimpse into the others’ lives and how Miwako impacted them. Miwako is a compelling and quite frankly cryptic protagonist, but all of the characters are fleshed out and relatable with their own emotions and personal challenges that they are facing. The story deals with not just death and grief, but sexuality and gender, coming-of-age struggles, sexual assault, and the inner turmoil of secrets and our decisions. There is this lingering sense of hopelessness throughout the book, but by the end of it, there is hope again for the characters, even though you know there are still challenges ahead.
Goenawan’s storytelling takes a tragic or dark history of a character that needs to be unraveled and shows the vulnerability and challenges that people face when they desperately want to uncover the truth but also reveals the strength that they have too. Sometimes, in a way, it had me questioning whether or not what was taking place was actually reality. I find her stories tend to have this otherworldly atmosphere with some mystical elements scattered throughout despite it seeming like contemporary, so part three of this story was not surprising and I enjoyed the way it concluded.
“University sophomore Miwako Sumida has hanged herself, leaving those closest to her reeling. In the months before her suicide, she was hiding away in a remote mountainside village, but what, or whom, was she running from?
Ryusei, a fellow student at Waseda who harbored unrequited feelings for Miwako, begs her best friend Chie to bring him to the remote village where she spent her final days. While they are away, his older sister, Fumi, who took Miwako on as an apprentice in her art studio, receives an unexpected guest at her apartment in Tokyo, distracting her from her fear that Miwako’s death may ruin what is left of her brother’s life.”
Hardcover, 288 pages
Expected publication: March 10th 2020 by Soho Press
I received a copy in exchange for an unbiased review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.