Reading Japanese Writers in English: What Can Come of Grief? As seen through Banana Yoshimoto`s 1994 novel, Amrita.

“As people, we narrowly get by with our lives each day, energy from our soft, delicate actions appearing like cherry blossoms, only once, and once for a short while. Eventually, petals fall to the ground.” ― Banana Yoshimoto, Amrita

Banana Yoshimoto’s Amrita was published in English in 1997. It is now available in English on Amazon, kindle, iBook’s, and, more recently,

Yoshimoto’s handling of grief is calming, trauma is seen as a mere part of life and events in her work, though dramatic (sometimes even supernatural), is experienced by characters as if it is part of everyday life, challenging the readers to consider if everyday life itself is all that normal, to begin with. This is done through Yoshimoto’s juxtapositioning of repetitive daily chores and supernatural happenings, blending them into one narrative, making them indistinguishable from each other and thus, bare the same significance (or rather, insignificance).

Amrita positions readers in an identifiable setting as our protagonist, Sakumi, who works at a bar at night and lives with her family, wakes up late in the afternoon, hungover, and has a lovely chat with her mother in the kitchen. We later learn that Sakumi’s sister committed suicide, her little brother might have supernatural powers, and she might be in love with her late sister’s boyfriend.

Yoshimoto tries to push forward the notion that normality itself—what we lazily perceive as “normal”, in accordance with societal norms, needs questioning. The form of the novel is conventional, the prose is clean, and the characters are relatable. But because of the ‘normality’ of the form, the blending the subtle abnormalities stands out—successfully challenges readers to reconsider the nature of normality. Amrita tells us to chill, stop judging others, and face challenges with positivity. The death of the sister in the family brings the family closer together, Sakumi is provided a chance to get to know her sister’s boyfriend better and falls in love. Yoshimoto reminds us that perhaps we should, sometimes, step out of the normal, move away from “narrowly getting by with our lives”, challenge our values.