A bewitching novel set in contemporary Japan about the mysterious suicide of a young woman.
Miwako Sumida is dead.
Now those closest to her try to piece together the fragments of her life. Ryusei, who has always loved her, follows Miwako’s trail to Kitsuyama, a remote Japanese village where she spent the final months of her life. Chie, Miwako’s best friend since high school, was the only person to know her true identity — but is now the time to reveal it? Meanwhile, Fumi, Ryusei’s sister and Miwako’s former employer, is harbouring her own haunting secret.
Together, they realise that the young woman they thought they knew had more going on behind her seemingly perfect façade than they could ever have dreamed.
From Clarissa Goenawan, the critically acclaimed author of Rainbirds, comes The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida, a beguiling novel of tragedy, dark histories and secrets.
Goenawan sets the tone for the novel in the prologue as Ryusei and Chie stand in a seemingly peaceful forest, wondering if this was the place where Miwako killed herself. Haunting. Beautiful. Confronting. Right from the very first page, I was unable to tear my eyes away.
Set predominately in Tokyo, the novel is split into three parts and follows the perspectives of Ryusei, Chie and Fumi as they each try to make sense of – and reconcile themselves with – Miwako’s death. What follows is an exquisite character-study, dipping back and forth between the past – when each of these characters first met and became captivated by Miwako – and the present, when they’re each left wondering whether they truly knew her at all.
Each of these characters is vividly drawn and fully realised with their own flaws, complexities and secrets, and it is through these flashbacks, told with sparse, luminous prose, that Goenawan slowly unpicks the enigma that is Miwako Sumida.
Amid all the character-work and fine detail, Goenawan touches on a number of important topics such as gender, identity, grief and trauma. The latter half of the novel also incorporates elements of magical realism, which from a lessor writer might have seemed sudden, but from Goenawan they were fascinating, fitting, and flowed smoothly with the rest of the narrative.
Intricate, eerie and utterly exquisite, The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida is a story that will stay with me for some time yet. I can’t wait to see what Goenawan delivers next, but until then, I’m off to check out her debut novel, Rainbirds.