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Goodbye Tsugumi


Goodbye Tsugumi

Originally published in Japan in 1989, popular international author Banana Yoshimoto's GOODBYE TSUGUMI is the tale of a pair of teenage cousins, Maria Shirakawa and Tsugumi Yamamoto, and the final summer they spend together in the sleepy Japanese coastal village where they were raised. Although narrated by Maria, the novel mainly centers on Tsugumi, an extremely unpleasant and very fragile young woman who spends half her time in bed or hospitalized and who does her best to make the lives of those around her as unbearable as possible.

Tsugumi was born with "a whole slew of physical ailments and defects" and was never expected to live beyond infancy. Always expecting the worst, the Yamamoto family spoiled their daughter beyond belief --- indulging her every whim, ignoring her insults, and carting her off the finest hospitals in all of Japan in hopes of extending her life just a little longer. As a result Tsugumi grew to be extremely pushy, insolent, and rude. Not to mention malicious, foul-mouthed, selfish, and "brilliantly sneaky." Maria, who once included herself in the "Top Three Victims of Tsugumi's Outrageously Nasty Disposition," just behind Tsugumi's mother and older sister, lives with her mother in the guest house behind the Yamamoto Inn, awaiting the day her father is granted divorce from "the woman he is married to" so he can marry Maria's mother and move them both to Tokyo to live with him.

Maria grudgingly puts up with Tsugumi's daily abuse because, despite her cousin's vicious tongue and malicious attitude, she is actually quite fun to play with. As imaginative and creative as she is mean, Tsugumi comes up with all sorts of wild and inventive games for the duo to play --- their favorite being "The Haunted Mailbox," in which the girls pretend to receive letters from the dead in an old rusted box behind their school. One day Tsugumi takes this game too far and tricks Maria into believing that she's miraculously found a letter written by her beloved deceased grandfather. When Maria discovers the truth --- that Tsugumi wrote the letter after spending days perfecting the old man's handwriting --- she lashes out at Tsugumi, pushing her down and wishing her dead. For the first time in her life Tsugumi apologizes for something she's done, and the cousins are united in true friendship for the first time.

Years pass and the day finally arrives when Maria's father is able to marry her mother and transport his family to Tokyo. Maria is torn between the life she always thought she wanted in the city and the life she has become accustomed to by the sea. She reluctantly says goodbye to Tsugumi and the Yamamoto Inn and enrolls at university in Tokyo. Although things are going smoothly for Maria both in school and with her newly reunited family, she can't get over her longing to see the ocean and her cousin again. When Tsugumi calls to inform Maria that the Yamamoto Inn is closing so that Uncle Yamamoto can pursue his dream of opening a pension somewhere further inland, Maria jumps at the chance to spend one last summer at the Inn.

When she arrives at the seaside town that was once her home, Maria finds that many things have changed --- for starters, Tsugumi has a boyfriend, the wise-eyed and gentle Kyoichi who just so happens to be the son of the family who is building a luxurious and massive new hotel in the village, which is sure to put all the small family owned inns out of business. Tsugumi appears calmer, happier, and only occasionally venomous toward her family --- in short, a changed woman. But when a gang of local teenagers begin making trouble for Kyoichi, beating him up and kidnapping his prized Pomeranian, Tsugumi secretly hatches a plan for revenge that will altar irreparably Maria's plans for one last idyllic summer with her cousin.

The pleasure of reading GOODBYE TSUGUMI lies less in the plot, which is somewhat implausible and thin, than it does with the lyrical and evocative characterizations of the cousins. Yoshimoto creates an almost magical feeling of nostalgia for childhood summers gone by that sweeps the reader up in its spell. While her latest effort may not ignite the literary buzz that her earlier works KITCHEN and ASLEEP did, GOODBYE TSUGUMI is sure to please Banana Yoshimoto fans as well as those who enjoy the simple beauty of a quietly told character study.

Reviewed by Melissa Morgan on July 31, 2002

Goodbye Tsugumi
by Banana Yoshimoto

  • Publication Date: June 23, 2011
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 186 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • ISBN-10: 0802116388
  • ISBN-13: 9780802116383