This is one of my MBI Longlist reads. Poschmann is a highly acclaimed poet and novelist in Germany but her work does not appear to have been widely translated and promoted in the US or UK. This novel won a major German literary prize when it came out.
[Content Warning: discussions and suggestions of suicideal ideation and activity]
The story is narrated by Gilbert Silvester, a member of the academic precariat who wakes up one morning after having had a dream that his wife is cheating on him. He accuses her, she denies it, and he decides to leave her and fly immediately to the most remote place he can find: Tokyo. After a long and restless flight he lands in Narita and picks up a handful of Japanese classics in English, including a volume of the great poet Basho’s haikus.
Tokyo is not an obvious place for Gilbert to go: he is a coffee drinker flying to the ultimate land of tea, a scholar of beards as they are depicted in art and film in a land where men rarely wear beards, and without much of a plan beyond escaping his current trauma. But his journey is soon shaped by two events: he meets Yosa Tamagotchi, a young Japanese student who is afraid he has failed his exams and is planning to commit suicide; and a desire to reproduce Basho’s journey to the Pine Islands, famed for their natural beauty.
After persuading Yosa not to throw himself in front a train, Gilbert takes him back to his hotel room, where Yosa treats him with deference and politeness. Yosa has been consulting a book entitled The Complete Manual of Suicide and Gilbert persuades Yosa to postpone his plan and come with him on his journey. Yosa stipulates and Gilbert accepts the condition that they will visit sites of famous suicides that are described in the Manual and which are considered particularly memorable and beautiful. These combined destinations take the two men on a journey from south of Tokyo back to the city, then on past Fukushima and finally, late in the novel, to the Pine Islands, with stops at many sites of natural beauty along the way. Poschmann is known for her writing about the natural world and it is beautifully depicted and translated here.Read the rest of this entry »