Hardboiled & Hard Luck: Dreamy prose of Banana Yoshimoto

What do you do when you are having a hard time in life? When the onus of regrets and grief is making you weak. Will you give up? Certainly not! So, is there any choice? Yes, definitely. The choice is to accept it and move on. And there are some books that could help you in accepting your grief, working as a pacifier to your soul. “Hardboiled and Hard Luck” by Banana Yoshimoto is one such book. It comprises of two novellas based on the themes of love, loss, grief, regrets and finding hope.

Banana Yoshimoto
Hardboiled & Hard Luck by Banana Yoshimoto

About the author

Banana Yoshimoto is the pen name of Japanese writer Mahoko Yoshimoto. She got noticed, by her debut book Kitchen(1988), selling millions of copy throughout the world, which also got adapted into a movie, twice. Bananamania, is what people called, when her book swept in Japan like a wave. Asleep, The Lake, Goodbye Tsugumi are some of her other works. She writes on fears and dreams, loneliness, human longing and grief in a soothing way. After Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto is the most loved writer of Japan.

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Premise of the book

Hardboiled and Hard Luck comprises of two novellas. It is translated from Japanese by Michael Emmerich. The first talks about the idea of saying ‘Goodbye’ and how regrets could make you boil with anger. The second talks about acceptance of death of a loved one and how to deal with your hard luck.

  • Hardboiled

An unnamed narrators is strolling on a mountaineous road when she senses that something is wrong with the vibe of the place. As she goes further, the memory of her ex-lover strikes her in the middle of an eerie place. The place which was supposed to be a Shinto Shrine, has nothing inside it. She sees a weird arrangements of black stones looking like eggs. Then she rushes to a restaurant, where a black stone falls from her pocket, this shocks her and she thinks that this place is not an ordinary place and there is something evil residing here.

” I felt as if this place I had come to was nowhere. As if I no longer had a home to return to. That road I had been on didn’t lead anywhere, this trip would never end- it seemed to me as if next morning would never arrive. It occurred to me that this must be how it feels to be a ghost.

She arrives at her booked hotel room. There also she feels uneasy, she tries to sleep, which takes her to a dream. In her dream, she finds her ex-lover, Chizuru, who is now dead. Chizuru tells her that today is her death anniversary. They recall their past in that dream. The time when they were together and things were good between them. After which, the narrator decides to move out, but this completely broke Chizuru from inside. They parted after which they lost touch, till the time, the narrator gets the news of her death.

” She kept waving forever. I had the feeling that she would always be there waiting for me.”

So, in this dream, they talk about how selfish the narrator was and sometimes things that doesn’t matter to one person could hurt the other person deeply.

In this novella, most part of the story is covered with the dreams of the narrator. As if Yoshimoto was daydreaming while writing this. The story is simple, but the message behind this is deep. By using dreams as a method of communicating things to a dead person, one regrets of not meeting again, Yoshimoto has tried to lighten the burden of the people. People whose hearts are heavy with guilt and regrets. People who are late in realizing their love, when the time is over. In dreams the image of Chizuru that the narrator sees, is from her own perspective and guilt she is carrying all these years. According to Yoshimoto, Dream is a metaphor for a place where everything stands still, nothing has changed and a person could relive those past moments again. A way one could make peace with a haunted past. A dreamy and soothing story, that only Yoshimoto could write.

” Time expands and contracts. When it expands it’s like pitch- it folds people in its arms and holds them forever in its embrace.”

  • Hard Luck

The second novella, talks about the relationship between a young woman( unnamed narrator) and her dying sister, Kuni. Unlike the first one, this is shorter and a more realistic story. Kuni, suffered from a cerebral haemorrhage after staying up several nights in a row, preparing manual for a person who will take over her job, which she quit for her marriage. She didn’t know the hard luck this good work will bring her.

The narrator visits her sister in the hospital and muses on the ill fate of her sister and the past beautiful moments they shared together. This is not just about loss, it’s story of metamorphosis of a family, facing the hard times and at last accepting its fate, when death stands knocking at their door. It is not the story of death, but of the sadness that it brings and how to deal with those emotions. How to stop yourself from drowning in those emotions and survive them. When you know you are about to lose somebody precious and that is inevitable, you resort to the sacred moments you shared with them.

” I know that sometime in the future, a day will come when my family will start to feel differently. That world out there, this landscape we’re looking at now through this window, will start to seem good to us and different from the way it is now- so different that we aren’t even allowed to imagine it yet.”

Both the novellas tell the story of women grappling with the idea of death. Yoshimoto doesn’t care about the identity or sexuality of the narrators as this could be a story of anybody struggling with the working of this world, trying to make peace with his/her past. There is still a ray of hope that one can look upto in the darkest times.

This was my 5th book by Banana Yoshimoto, and being aware of her trademark, contemporary prose blended with philosophy, it was not so appealing to me, as her other works like Asleep and The Lake. The writing was minimalistic in which every word counted, still I felt that it was not able to show its magic completely. This could be my problem as well, when it’s your favourite writer, you sometimes expect way too much.

But one thing I can assure you about this book is that, it will lift you up when you are feeling down. Banana Yoshimoto’s dreamy prose and soothing words is all you need to make through a hard day!

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