Clarissa Goenawan’s literary debut “Rainbirds” is the book you read when you feel like walking in a rainstorm, knowing you’ll get wet, but not really caring. The coldness and soft pitter-patter is comforting in a way because it makes you feel beyond the numbness — drown without really drowning, and bleed without really bleeding.
By Clarissa Goenowan.
323 pp. Soho Press, Inc. $25.
March 6, 2018.
That’s what Goenawan’s hero 24-year-old Ren Ishida does — first after his older sister Keiko Ishida moves away from their home in Tokyo without warning and again after Keiko tragically dies years later. She was 33.
Ren loved his older sister, who basically raised him because their parents were both arguing and absent. She often cooked him his favorite dish, curry rice — always with a smile, even though she didn’t know how to cook rice and was also a kid. (Even when undercooked or watery, Keiko’s curry rice was the best curry rice Ren ever tasted.)
So when Keiko died — murdered in the quiet rural fictional Japanese town of Akakawa (which translates to “red river” in Japanese) — it was like the sky opened up and started downpouring.
It’s good that Ren always liked the rain (and its earthy smell).
Written in first person from Ren’s contemplative perspective, Goenawan’s book takes you through a journey. Ren follows his sister’s footsteps, pursuing an English and literature degree at a prestigious Japanese university; moving to Akakawa, where Keiko relocated after she turned 22; teaching English at the same college entrance exam prep school Keiko worked; and trying to live the life she lived.
But as Ren grieves, he learns that the sister he loves might have been grieving, too, when she mysteriously disappeared to Akakawa. She, too, might have also been walking through a rainstorm.
“Remember this, Ren. Sadness alone can’t harm anyone. It’s what you do when you’re sad that can hurt you and those around you,” she once said.
Packed with staccato’s sentences, “Rainbirds” is a contemporary classic you can easily disappear into — the type of book you read when you want to retreat into a whisper of quiet loneliness. You can’t make someone love you. You can’t choose who you love. And some relationships are just cut too short without reason. But you have to keep walking, even when it rains.
The sun will come back tomorrow.
But today smells like hope.