Home > 1980, 20th Century, Challenges, Highly Recommended, Japanese Literature, Novel, Yamada Taichi > Strangers by Yamada – Japanese Literature Challenge

Strangers by Yamada – Japanese Literature Challenge

Strangers by Yamada (1987) French title: Présences d’un été. Translated by Annick Laurent

I read Strangers by Yamada in January for Japanese Literature Challenge. I’m lucky that Meredith extended the reading time up to March. My late billet is still in. Phew!

Strangers is set in Tokyo, during a summer in the 1980s. Harada, a rather famous TV scriptwriter, is forty-seven, recently divorced and has moved into an apartment in an office complex. The building empties at night and he thinks he’s the only one actually living in this tower. He’s estranged from his grownup son, his parents are dead and he doesn’t have many friends. In other words, he’s lonely.

Two things happen during that summer. First, he meets Kei, an accountant who lives in the building too. He thought he was alone there after working hours but he’s not, he has a neighbor. They soon get acquainted and start an affair.

Then, feeling a bit off-kilter after his divorce, struggling a little to adapt to his newfound singlehood, Harada decides to go back to Asakusa, the Tokyo neighborhood he grew up in. He wants to see his childhood house again. When he arrives there, he meets with the new tenants, who look a lot like his long dead parents and welcome him into their home.

How will Harada’s relationship with Kei evolve? Who are the people who live in his childhood home? Harada is a middle-aged man who has to reassess his life after his divorce. His career is successful but not totally fulfilling. His marriage fell apart and he has no contact with his son. He feels adrift and tries to go back to his roots and to find comfort in Kei. I enjoyed the novel’s nostalgic tone and the blanket of melancholy that settles on Harada’s shoulders. He wants to go back to a happy place and looks for it in his childhood memories. But how destructive is it?

Telling more would spoil the novel for potential readers, so I won’t go further in its description. I’ll just say that the ending was a surprise and that it’s not the kind of books I usually read but I liked it anyway. Yamada describes Tokyo with fondness and the city becomes an important part of this atmospheric story. Harada’s visits to Asakusa, the descriptions of the area, its shops and restaurants give a good vision of the neighborhood, a foot in the past, and a foot in the present. And the story progresses towards a strange ending.

Highly recommended.

  1. March 2, 2020 at 4:26 am

    Thank you very much I had not heard of this one. Funny, I just went to Goodreads to add it to my shelf, and the synopsis there sounds so different!! Maybe that synopsis reveals actually too much


    • March 2, 2020 at 7:24 am

      I tried to not to mention the main thing about this book, to avoid spoilers.

      Btw, have you heard the word the Québéquois have invented to replace “spoiler”? Divulgâcher. Brilliant. I love it.


  2. March 2, 2020 at 10:24 am

    Really like Asakusa, which is a neighbourhood that still manages to preserve some of its traditional feel alongside the modernity.


    • March 2, 2020 at 9:58 pm

      I’d love to visit Japan, maybe I’ll go one day.


      • March 3, 2020 at 11:13 am

        Go with us next summer 2021! I’ll hopefully have earned enough money by then to take the boys as promised, after all of their exams. Pleased to see that Quais du Polar is going ahead, but do be careful!


        • March 4, 2020 at 10:27 pm

          Don’t tempt me!

          And yes, I’m happy to hear that, so far so good, Quais du Polar is still on. The number of people in the same room is rather small and the locations are spread accross the city.


  3. March 2, 2020 at 10:57 am

    I read this some years ago and while much of detail has slipped my mind since then I do recall it being quite haunting and strange. Thank you for a useful reminder.


    • March 2, 2020 at 9:59 pm

      It was strange, not my usual read but I liked it.


      • March 11, 2020 at 3:03 pm

        This was an unusual book for me to read too. I liked the sections set in Asakusa best and the way Yamada explored the conflicts in her protagonists mind, but there were some aspects of the translation in my edition that jarred.


        • March 11, 2020 at 10:20 pm

          I have a French translation, I didn’t notice anything strange.

          *spoiler alert*
          I can talk about the ending with you since you’ve read it. I didn’t expect that kind of ending. At all and I was really surprised.


          • March 12, 2020 at 11:47 am

            I didn’t anticipate that ending either.


  4. March 2, 2020 at 11:06 am

    Agreed that it’s hard to write too much without spoilers, but I loved this one very much too. I think it resonated at the time I read it too. Such a good book – must revisit it! 😀


    • March 2, 2020 at 10:00 pm

      I had a long debate with myself about revealing one important side of the story but I decided against it. It’s too much of a spoiler and it comes too far into the book to be told on a blurb or in a summary.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. March 2, 2020 at 9:35 pm

    I’ve been hit and miss when it comes to Japanese literature. I have a feeling this one might be a bit soft for me. But maybe not. What do you think?


    • March 2, 2020 at 10:01 pm

      Hit and miss is my experience with Japanese Lit.
      I don’t know if you’d like this. It’s not too soft, that’s for sure. There’s another element in the book I’m not sure you’d like.
      Try it if you have it, it’s short anyway. It’s not going to eat a lot of your time.


      • March 3, 2020 at 4:04 am

        I’ll probably pass as I’m working on TBR books and only buying ones that I’m certain about (and even then it doesn’t always work)


  6. Vishy
    March 3, 2020 at 5:52 pm

    Wonderful review, Emma! Looks like a fascinating book! Will add this to my TBR. Haven’t read a Yamada book yet and so very excited to explore. Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂


    • March 4, 2020 at 10:28 pm

      Thanks Vishy. I think you’d like it and I’d be happy to read your thoughts about it.


      • Vishy
        March 5, 2020 at 11:05 am

        Will look forward to reading it soon, Emma. So excited!


  7. March 31, 2020 at 4:16 pm

    I’m grateful to have read this today. Thanks for sharing


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