Asleep is an #OwnVoices Japanese literature novel that’s a part of the magical realism genre. It’s also a small collection of three short stories written by Banana Yoshimoto, who’s a female author.
I’ve had the book on my shelf for a long time, so for the 24in48 Readathon that occurred last weekend, I decided to pick it up! The first two stories were very interesting to me and I enjoyed them immensely. The third story, which is the title story, did not appeal to me at all once I began reading it. In this post, you can find mini-reviews for each story with their ratings, as well as my overall rating for the book as a whole!
Night and Night’s Travellers
This story is about a young girl who discovers a letter that she wrote to her late brother’s former girlfriend. In the process, she reminisces about her past involving them, and struggles to move forward a year after his demise.
This was exceptionally written. It’s a very simple story about grief and love, and the conflicts that arise when you try to move forward from a difficult loss. The characters were all people that you would meet in real life; people with very realistic experiences and personal battles, which makes it accessible and empathetic. It evokes an array of emotions, especially if you’ve encountered a serious loss before. The magical realism aspects are exquisitely subtle, making it a wonderful introduction to the genre for folks who are unfamiliar, but interested in testing it out.
There is only one aspect to the story that I can see being uncomfortable for some folks. There is some discussion of romance between the brother and his cousin. I come from a South Asian background, where marriage or romance between cousins isn’t taboo or seen as something grotesque and appalling, as it is for Western audiences. So, for anyone who’s uncomfortable with this notion, may not warm up to this particular narrative.
4.25 outta 5.
The second story was my absolute favourite. It follows a young woman as she dreams about another woman from her past; a person that she was involved in a three-way relationship with (the third person was a man that they both “shared”) and hated passionately. She is extremely puzzled by these dreams, so she sets out on deciphering the meaning behind them.
While I was reading this, I felt an air of suspense and mild tension for what was to come. I was hooked from the first page of the story until it’s bittersweet finale. There is a thought-provoking motif of unexpected romance and the bonds that tie people to together that I found comfort in. The magical realism is closer to a supernatural quality, which makes it another great introduction to the genre. The writing was so very lovely, I adored everything about this story.
4.75 outta 5.
This story revolves around a young woman who cannot stay awake to save her life. She’s involved in a relationship with a married man, who’s wife is in a coma, and all she does is await his phone calls and visits.
I did not like this story at all. The female narrator is abrasive and highly annoying. I found her ramblings about her relationship to be rather immature and insensitive. For most of the story, she’s complaining about one aspect of her relationship or another, yet she doesn’t do anything to address these issues that she has. A comfortable rhythm has befallen her life and she’d rather rant and stew in her own unhappiness than make a change. I can’t relate to a character like that. Her boyfriend also uses her as an emotional crutch to avoid dealing with his frustrations on how to handle the situation with his wife, who he described as a “dead vegetable.” It’s clear he cared about her a lot, feels internally guilty for his affair as well as about lying to her parents, and he’s numb to everything else outside of that. Overall, it’s a depiction of a harmful relationship. I ended up skimming through most of this story because I simply couldn’t get into it, and didn’t want to tolerate the protagonist’s persona.
I feel it’s necessary for me to be upfront about my personal triggers here as well. A couple of years ago, I escaped a terribly abusive and harmful relationship, where infidelity played a big part. That relationship is the reason I have PTSD, so my opinions on that story could be immensely affected by my own personal experiences. Granted the guy in this story isn’t abusive in the same sense at all, but there’s enough there to have its affect on me. Just wanted to provide a full disclaimer.
1 outta 5.
In conclusion, I highly recommend the first two stories. If you are someone who has always been interested in magical realism but haven’t picked it up yet, I think Night and Night’s Travellers and Love Songs are really great ways to test the genre without being overwhelmed.
3.5 outta 5.