Banana Yoshimoto's depiction of the lives of Japanese youth has changed her country's literature and earned international acclaim. In Hardboiled & Hard Luck, this internationally best-selling author delivers two tales of resonant grace, of young women coming to terms with change and heartbreak. In "Hardboiled," the narrator is hiking in the mountains on an anniversary she has forgotten about, the anniversary of her ex-lover's death. As she nears her hotel, a sense of haunting falls over her. That night she dreams of her ex-lover, and is visited by a woman who may not exist-perhaps these eerie events will help her make peace with her loss. "Hard Luck" features a young woman whose sister is dying and lies in a coma. Her fiancé left her after the accident, but his brother continues to visit, and as the two of them make peace with the impending loss of their loved one, they seem to find new hope for the future in their own new bond. Hardboiled & Hard Luck is a small jewel of a book, a work of resilient sweetness that will move readers deeply.
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Like twins whose paths diverge dramatically, these two gentle stories share little beyond the mesmerizing voice of their creator. The surreal subject matter and dreamy narration of "Hardboiled" make it read rather like a bedtime story gone awry. When the young female narrator realizes that it's the anniversary of her lover's death, several curious events suddenly make sense: a stone from a creepy shrine that finds its way into her pocket; a fire at an udon shop where she'd just been eating; and a nighttime visitation by the ghost of a woman who committed suicide. "Harboiled" drags a bit, but "Hard Luck" is a pleasure, even if it's almost as downbeat as its predecessor. This time, a young female narrator is standing watch over her older sister, Kuni, whose brain is slowly dying after a cerebral hemorrhage. As their parents gradually lose hope for Kuni's recovery, the narrator makes her own peace by forging a bond with her sister's fiancé's brother. In this gemlike story, Yoshimoto ( Goodbye Tsugumi) takes a subtle, graceful look at the relationship between the sisters and the fault lines in this grieving family, elevating her little book from fine to downright moving.
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In her seventh book of spare, piercing fiction, Japanese writer Yoshimoto once again portrays strong-minded young women coping with heartbreak, traumatic family fissures, drastic illness, and fatalities. This sounds grim, but Yoshimoto is tenderly ironic and keenly attuned to nature's beauty and the mystic dimension of life, and her characters' ability to tough their way through painful predicaments infuses her elegantly insightful stories with hope. Here two novellas portray two self-possessed yet besieged young women. In "Hardboiled," the narrator is on a solo journey that begins as a simple mountain trek and turns into an intense confrontation with otherworldly forces, including a ghost in a hotel and overwhelming memories of a lost lover and her terrible demise. In "Hard Luck," a tale all the more poignant in the wake of Terry Shiavo, the narrator's sister lies in a coma as her family struggles to find a way to say good-bye. Yoshimoto writes of profoundly complex matters of love, life, decorum, guilt, and death with the precision and grace of a traditional calligrapher. Donna Seaman
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