“Amrita” by Banana Yoshimoto: Tokyo pop culture and Magical realism

Amrita is the latest book I’ve finished. What a trip! It’s sort of difficult to pin this one down. All of Yoshimoto’s books read like the dairy of a Japanese high school girl or college student. What keeps her work from becoming another piece of YA (young adult) kid’s stuff is her fascination with death and the psychological depth of her characters. This is her longest novel, weighting in at 366 pages. Something told me there was a special reason behind the extended length of this book. Her other works are much shorter. It sat in my library for months. I’d pass it by wondering if it was the right time to pick up Amrita. My assumptions were correct. Amrita was a bomb of a book that went off in my brain.

The story is told form the first point perspective of a young Japanese girl, Sakumi, who lives at home with her family. The death of two family members greatly impacts everyone. Sakumi later suffers a serious head injury in which she loses her memories. Piece by piece she stumbles upon her old life. This sounds like the plot line of a stereotypical daytime TV drama but Amrita is anything but shallow. The characters are flesh and bone. Even people who only make brief appearances have a complete life of their own. What is so interesting about this book is the strong supernatural element in the book. Everything will seem entirely normal and then something surrealistic will occur, but it will happen in a way that’s eerily believable. It is a place where telepathy and the ghosts of the deceased are just the tip of the iceberg. Yoshimoto weaves a tapestry of reality, and then stretches it until the threads begin to bust. This is Magical Realism.

Amrita was a very enjoyable book that reads very modern despite being almost 20 years old. Sometimes I feel that her writing is better geared towards women readers because of her feminine style. When you read Amrita, you are in the mind of a young Japanese girl that thinks and talks like one. The quality though, is that of an experienced young writer. I believe Yoshimoto wrote this around the age of thirty. The greatest quality of this book is the voice. It is soft but strong. The story puts Sakumi through a lot of pain. The agitation in her soul is clearly reflected in her literary voice. Her inner strength is remarkable. What keeps the Amrita universe going is love. Whether it’s being shared between family, friends, or lovers, love is a central theme in this book. Yoshimoto’s genuine understanding of love allows her to create and destroy it as she wishes. She uses it to paint a sublime canvas. Magical, is how I describe Amrita.

You don’t have to be familiar with Yoshimoto’s older works to fully enjoy this one. Do not hesitate to experience the life contained in these pages.

Advertisements
Tagged , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: