Amrita

Amrita

by Banana Yoshimoto
     
 

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Cuando muere un ser querido, su entorno queda trágicamente afectado, en particular cuando todo sugiere que ha sido un suicidio. Tras la muerte misteriosa de Mayu, una joven y famosa actriz, Ryuichiro, su compañero, decide emprender un largo viaje para olvidar. Desde diferentes lugares cuenta sus andanzas en las cartas que envía a Sakumi, la hermana…  See more details below

Overview

Cuando muere un ser querido, su entorno queda trágicamente afectado, en particular cuando todo sugiere que ha sido un suicidio. Tras la muerte misteriosa de Mayu, una joven y famosa actriz, Ryuichiro, su compañero, decide emprender un largo viaje para olvidar. Desde diferentes lugares cuenta sus andanzas en las cartas que envía a Sakumi, la hermana mayor de Mayu, en las que utiliza un inusitado tono de familiaridad y cariño. Sakumi, que no sabe si éste era el estilo habitual empleado por él para dirigirse a su hermana, sucumbe al amor, sobre todo tras sufrir un accidente en el que pierde parte de la memoria. La nueva Sakumi, convertida ya en novia de Ryuichiro, sorprende a todos, porque en ella destellan señales de una segunda personalidad, propia de quienes han estado alguna vez cerca de la muerte...

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Ms. Yoshimoto has an effortless ability to penetrate her characters' hearts.
Chicago Tribune
Banana Yoshimoto is a master storyteller. . . .The sensuality is subtle,masked, and extraordinarily powerful.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In her third novel, Yoshimoto somewhat haphazardly explores the drug-related death of a beautiful young movie actress, Mayu, and the wake of grief it causes among her loved ones. Unlike her marvelously taut, sensitively imagined chronicles of chic young Tokyoites (Kitchen and Lizard), Amrita lacks a coherent plot and suffers from awkwardly written stream-of-consciousness passages. The occasionally stilted sentence ("I listened to my brother's footsteps tediously climb off to bed") makes one wonder how many of this novel's flaws are due to the translation. The book is narrated by Mayu's younger sister, Sakumi, a 20-ish waitress who lives at home with her mother, Yukiko, and her grade school-age half-brother, Yoshio. After Mayu's death, Sakumi suffers a severe head injury that erases most of her memory. She soon begins a cloying romance with Mayu's lover, Ryuichiro, a literary novelist. Meanwhile, Yoshio develops special "powers"he has visions and hears voices and loses all interest in school. Sakumi struggles with her reemerging memories, especially those concerning Mayu. Because of the novel's loose structure, these various pieces of story and character never really hold together, and Sakumi's emotional journey is clouded by bouts of unnamed "strange feelings." In previous books, Yoshimoto has demonstrated delightful subtlety and wit. Here, however, her usual gift for telling indirection gives way to formlessness. (July)
Library Journal
In the popular young author's latest novel, an oddly winsome blend of personal psychology and the paranormal overlay the story of a young woman's fight to reclaim herself after twin tragedies. Twentysomething Sakumi lives in Tokyo with her nontraditional family, all of them recovering from the shocking death of Sakumi's younger sister, noted actress Mayu. Shortly after Mayu's death, Sakumi falls down a staircase, sustaining injuries that continue to distort her memory and perception well after her physical recovery. As she reaches toward wholeness, Sakumi interacts with several colorful, warm, and often clairvoyant people, most importantly her young brother, who begins to exhibit uncanny abilities and adult restlessness midway through grade school. The earnest, peripatetic confusion of Sakumi's narrative whisks the reader from one peak moment to another, as Sakumi integrates her sometimes-mundane, sometimes-astonishing experiences. This endearing, exasperating novel, which follows Yoshimoto's Lizard (LJ 11/15/94), will surely fit in any collection where contemporary fiction circulates well.Janet Ingraham, Worthington P.L., Ohio.
Kirkus Reviews
Popular Japanese writer Yoshimoto (Lizard, 1994, etc.) abandons her usual edgy hip minimalism for a maudlin and pretentious take on death and the meaning of life as she tells the story of a young woman's search for redemption.

The sorrows just keep piling up for our poor twenty-something narrator, Saku-chan. Her father died of an aneurysm when she was a child; her mother remarried and then divorced; her sister Mayu, a famous actress, suddenly died; and when Saku-chan falls down some stairs and cuts her head open, she loses her memory. But this same fall, ironically, ultimately allows her to heal, though the process will be long and minutely detailed. Saku-chan lives at home with her mother, a cousin, her young half-brother Yoshio, and a woman friend of her mother's. Meanwhile, she works at a bar, has few interests, and seems content to drift through life. Working now to retrieve her memory at least gives her something to do. As Saku- chan tries to recall her past, she meets up with Ryichir, a writer and her sister Mayu's lover. The two sleep together, but Ryichir is restless and often away traveling. Brother Yoshio is also having troubles of his own. He stays away from school and, when pressed, tells Saku-chan that he's subject to premonitions and disturbing dreams. Saku-chan and Yoshio grow closer: They vacation together, ponder the strange dreams they experience, and think about the meaning of life. Yoshio eventually finds acceptance at a school for autistic and special children. But it's only after a visit to the ghost-haunted island of Saipan that Saku-chan, her memory recovered, accepts her sister's death. A hurried epilogue breathlessly wraps things up as a healed Saku-chan explains that she's now ready to "flow endlessly through life."

Yoshimoto tries hard to be deep here but flounders in the shallows.

From the Publisher

Praise for Amrita:

“Banana Yoshimoto is a master storyteller . . . The sensuality is subtle, masked, and extraordinarily powerful. The language is deceptively simple.”—Chicago Tribune

“Entering Banana Yoshimoto’s fictional world is a little like living as an expatriate in Tokyo—everyday things are disconcertingly different. The exotic lurks around every corner . . . What sets Yoshimoto apart, though, is her blunt candor . . . Amrita is difficult to forget.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Yoshimoto’s most fully realized work to date . . . Her firm grasp of her characters, her surefooted prose and her wide-eyed exploration of everything from American pop culture to the Japanese language make this one of the most satisfying books of the summer.”—Time Out New York

“Ms. Yoshimoto has an effortless ability to penetrate her characters’ hearts.”—New York Times Book Review

“Yoshimoto shouldn’t be shy about basking in her celebrity. Her achievements are already legend.”—Boston Globe

“Yoshimoto knows the remedial potential of a good, old-fashioned narrative . . . Her characters are immersed in a youth culture that owes more than a little to our notoriously shallow, decadent fin de siècle. They sleep around, eat street ramen, and listen with pleasure to Nirvana, but their lives are also marred by old-fashioned timeless tragedy. They lose their jobs and marry unsuccessfully; the people they love die before their time . . .Yoshimoto has never been afraid of trauma.”—The Nation

“This Kundera-esque novel (from the hugely popular Japanese author of Kitchen) is more about the grinding unabatement of everyday life than the shocks that perforate it, and all of its spirits are, mercifully, blithe.”—Entertainment Weekly

“In the popular young author’s latest novel, an oddly winsome blend of personal psychology and the paranormal overlay the story of a young woman’s fight to reclaim herself after twin tragedies . . . The earnest, peripatetic confusion of Sakumi’s narrative whisks the reader from one peak moment to another . . . Endearing . . . Will surely fit in any collection where contemporary fiction circulates well.”—Library Journal

“All of Yoshimoto’s trademark themes and edgy lyricism are at work in this novel, her most ambitious work to date . . . and many scenes crackle with her hot-wired magic . . . Sakumi, the narrator, is enchantingly muddled, sincere, and full of love for her irregular family . . . [Yoshimoto] spins a mesmerizing and haunting tale.”—Booklist

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9788483837863
Publisher:
Grupo Planeta
Publication date:
11/26/2013
Series:
Andanzas , #11
Sold by:
Planeta
Format:
NOOK Book
Sales rank:
940,035
File size:
1 MB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

I've often heard that if you go through something really intense your perception of the world will change entirely. Every now and then I wonder if things weren't different in my case.

Now I understand. I'm finally at a point where I can recall everything: all twenty-eight years since my birth, every one of the so-called "episodes" of my life as Sakumi Wakabayashi, that strange conglomeration of misfits who came together to form my family, those foods that I liked, those things that I didn't. Every element that had gone into making me who I was gradually made its way back to me, and now I have the power to reflect on all that has happened. It's like remembering a story someone told me in the past.

I can only perceive my past as a story. Nothing more.

In other words, at some point I had lost the power to distinguish what was real, all of those things that had happened in life prior to the accident. I no longer had any way of knowing how I felt about myself and the world. Perhaps I'd felt the same way all along, perhaps not. I really wonder what things were like.

Was my life, all those days and months and years, nothing more than past time, piled up like fallen snow?

How was I ever able come to terms with myself?

Apparently when you do something major like cutting off all your hair, your personality undergoes a transformation as well, because you change the way you act around other people.

...or at least that's what I've been told.

Before they performed my surgery, they shaved my head, and in an instant I was bald. By the time winter rolled around my hair had finally grown in, and I was sporting a trendy, short cut.

When I revealed myself to myfamily and friends, they barked out unanimously, "Sakuchan! We've never seen you with short hair. You look so different, almost like a new person."

Really? I thought, returning their smiles. Later, all alone, I opened the pages of my photo album in secret. Without a doubt, it was me in the pictures — that long hair and radiant smile. All the places I'd visited, all the scenes I'd encountered. I recognized each one of them from somewhere. I remembered...

...the weather in this picture, and...

...I had my period when they took that shot, so it was a pain to even stand up, and...

...and so on.

There was no question about it; it really was me in that album. It couldn't have been anyone else. Still, something refused to ring a bell. A strange sensation, almost as if I had been floating.

Now I want to stand up and give myself, steadfast and determined, a round of applause for maintaining "me," even though I had been thrust into such a strange psychological dilemma.

***

There were quite a few of us at home back then: my mother, me, my little brother Yoshio, who had just entered the fourth grade, and my mother's old friend Junko, who was living with us for a while. My cousin Mikiko, a student at a nearby women's university, was also at home. My father had passed away many years before, and since then my mother had both remarried and divorced. That's why my brother's father was different from mine. Actually, there was another sister between me and Yoshio. Her name was Mayu. She was my younger sister, from my mother's first husband, so we shared the same father. Throughout her early life Mayu worked in the entertainment business, but that didn't last for very long. Eventually she got out of it and moved in with a friend who was a writer. In the end her heart was troubled, and she died — as if she had taken her own life. It all happened quite some time ago.

I used to wait tables five nights a week. Even though I was on the night shift, and we served drinks, there was nothing questionable about the place where I worked — it was just an old bar, the kind everyone's familiar with. My boss, the bartender, was a hippie, so the inside of the bar looked like some kind of campus festival, a decor you see a lot of nowadays. I also did odd jobs around a friend's office every now and again, whenever I found time in the afternoon — secretarial work, mostly. I suppose I was into a lot of things back then.

My father was rich when he died. I have a hunch that at one point I thought a lot about the amount of money he left us, and about the best way to succeed in life while enjoying everything it has to offer. Chances are my feelings were subconscious, but it seems I was preoccupied with those thoughts — always. Now as I look back, I see that I was no prima donna, and I hadn't turned into a rebel, either. I had just reached a strange juncture in life. Nothing more.

Now I'm in love with all that's happened to me. I've really taken a fancy to it. It's enough to make me laugh aloud — I really have no excuse. Simply put, I've come to a point where this is how I perceive my existence, and if possible, I want everyone in the world to feel as wonderfully about it as I do.

***

I left the bar around three one night, and when I got home my mother was sitting at the kitchen table — bent over and frowning. I always found her in that spot, sitting in that position, whenever she had something to talk to me about. At least that's how it was back when she was about to get remarried. I remember that on the day my stepfather proposed she was sitting at the table in the same way. Even though she was thrilled to be engaged, she pretended to be sober, obviously an act. Ever since Junko had moved in my mother had used her as a sounding board, so it had been a while since I had talked to my mother like that in the kitchen.

Something told me that the topic of conversation that night would be my kid brother. He was acting kind of peculiar lately, which apparently had caused a stir at his elementary school. Ever since Mayu died, the job of raising my brother seemed to fall endlessly on my mother's shoulders. Thinking about that makes me feel bad, because sometimes it seemed like my mother didn't care for the life she'd been given.

Even though we both lived in the same home, in that home where I floated through life without a care in the world, my mother seemed different. It hurt me to see her so troubled.

I asked her if anything was wrong.

The house was deadly quiet, the kitchen plunged in darkness. Only the small lamp hanging over the sink was lit, shimmering with an eerie, incandescent glow. Under that light my mother looked like a black-and-white photograph. I could see the dark shadows that lived inside the tight curves around her eyebrows and lips.

"Sit down here for a minute," she said.

"Okay," I replied. "But how about some coffee?"

Mother nodded and stood up. "Sounds good. I'll make it."

I pulled a chair over and listened as it screeched against the floor. I plunked down in the chair, landing with a thud. Since I was on my feet all night long, I tended to lose all my power the instant I finally sat down. Then the stiffness from my sore back muscles would release and spread over my entire body. I could feel it happening that night.

There's something familiar about warm coffee on a late night. I wonder what it could be. It always makes me think of my childhood, even though I never drank coffee as a child. Like the morning of the first fallen snow, or a night of a strong typhoon, there is something reminiscent about late-night coffee, every time it makes a visit.

Mother spoke up. "It's about your brother."

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"He says he wants to become a writer."

First I'd heard of such news. "Why would he want to do something like that?" I said. On the whole, my brother was just like other boys his age, a kid who'd like to become a businessman simply for the money, or because of how they're portrayed so fashionably in television dramas. But a writer?

My mother shook her head. "Well, according to Yoshio, God appeared to him in his dreams."

A small gasp of air left my lips. I smiled and said, "Yeah, apparently that's really popular nowadays." My mother was silent, so I continued speaking. "Perhaps you should just leave him alone; after all, he's still just a kid. He doesn't know what he's talking about."

"But that's not the least of it. Everything about him has been strange lately," my mother replied.

"Whatever the problem is, it's probably best just to wait and see what happens, rather than going off and worrying about it so much."

"I suppose he'll grow out of it."

"Besides, what's wrong with him wanting to become a writer?"

"I'm not sure. I just...Oh, I don't know. It just gives me a bad feeling."

"Well," I said, "Yoshio's the first boy in this family and none of us really know what to do with him. We'll just have to wait and see."

"First Mayu died, and then you split your head open. Now this." My mother let out a sigh. "When will it end? I'm beginning to think that there'll never be a time without problems. I mean, you should see Yoshio when he writes. I feel like I'm watching somebody possessed when he's scribbling on his manuscript paper."

"Weird," I said. Intuition told me that my mother was the perfect example of a lighthouse that shines so brightly that ships coming in from sea get lost on their way to shore, falling victim to unusual destinies. I figured her special charm sought to change the very energy that it took to keep it alive. She was already aware of that fact, and she was hurt by it. As such, I didn't want to bring it up that night.

"Think of it this way," I replied. "If something were to happen to the family, then we'd be just like Mishima's A Beautiful Star. Wouldn't that be great? It would be so much fun." I didn't realize it until later, but to a certain extent my predictions would wind up coming true. My mother laughed.

"Tell you what," I said. "if it means anything, I'll sit down with the little squirt sometime tomorrow and interview him, see what he's really up to."

"Oh, please do. Then you'll see why I'm so worried."

"Is he really acting that unusual?"

"Like a totally different person," my mother said, bobbing her head. When I told her I would talk to Yoshio, her face grew bright — brighter than it had been since the start of our conversation. I was relieved. I'd finally managed to bring her spirits up to a reasonable level.

When you're alone in a dark kitchen in the middle of the night, you're in a place where thoughts come to an eternal standstill. It's not possible to be there for a long time, and it's wrong. It's wrong for mothers, daughters, and wives to be imprisoned there forever. The kitchen is not only a place where we create wonderful borscht, but it's also a breeding ground for malice and kitchen drinkers. It's the region of the home that holds the power to preside over everything.

***

Only recently have I discovered that humanity, that large, solid body which seems so steadfast and strong, is actually nothing but a soft, flabby object, easily ruined under pressure — like when it's stabbed, or run into.

This thing we call humanity, soft and as fragile as an uncooked egg, manages to survive each day unscathed. Human beings function together and carry on separate lives, each and every one of us. All people — the people that I know, the people that I love — manage to go through life one day at a time, despite the fact that we do it holding weapons that could easily destroy us at any moment. Every day brings a new miracle.

Once I start thinking like this I find it hard to get distracted.

Of course there will always be calamities in this world, and I wonder why they exist. I ask myself that every time someone I know passes away, or I see someone in pain. But then I can't help thinking about the other side of the story as well — the miracle of life that each one of us witnesses every day. Compared to the wonder of daily life, perhaps there isn't a whole lot we can do about the sorrow...

...or so such thoughts cross my mind, and when that happens I feel like I'm the one who's come to a stop, right in the middle of living.

Be it the universe, be it the people I know. Be it their parents, and those loved by the people I know. Numberless births. Numberless deaths. Limitless numbers that would make you shudder if you could see them. Let me see the numbers now — those numbers close to infinity — as I think through my foggy perception of the world.

***

My friends refer to that day as "the day she took a fall on the stairs." It was early autumn, the twenty-third of September.

I was in a hurry to get to work. I thought it would be faster to take a shortcut — a route I rarely used. It meant climbing down a stairwell behind the street I normally took, a stairwell that was infamously steep. It's behind my old junior high school, and the broad stone steps were also notorious for getting dangerously slippery during winter. Everyone knew that the stairwell was closed when it snowed.

It must have been the combination of the navy blue twilight, a hue fading away into the darkness of night, and the yellow half-moon hanging midway in the sky that took me away that day. I lost my footing, came down, and smashed my head against the stone.

The impact was so strong I lost consciousness. They had to carry me away to the hospital.

When I came to, I had no idea of what was happening around me. My mind pounded with a strange pain that seemed to drag my head along with it. I reached out to discover my head was covered in bandages, and then I saw myself back on the stairwell, and remembered all the pain and surprise that came along with it.

In front of me was a nice-looking, middle-aged woman. She opened her mouth and addressed me.

"Sakumi."

Since she appeared to be the right age, and since she was standing right there beside me in the hospital, I had the notion that she was, maybe, my mother. At least that's what went through my mind. It was the only reason I could give for her being there. Something about her was oddly familiar, but I couldn't say who she was, or what she was like. The information just wasn't there. She had to be my mother, or someone like her, because she was there with me in my room that day.

Did she look like me? Then it hit me — I couldn't remember my own face.

One thing was certain. If this woman was there, taking care of me like that, it would have been wrong to say something that might offend her. As I lay there troubled, wondering what to say or do, a small flashback trickled into my mind, This woman was at home (But where was home? Which sky was it under? What kind of place was it?) and she was crying. The memory of her tears came back to me, bubbling up from the crystal-clear surface of my pool of memories, as if it were a flashback in a movie, a scene that had been filmed with a filter over the camera lens. My grandfather had died, yes, I was sure of it. You know, tears really do flow one right after another, each grazing your cheek and hitting the ground...

...or so the memories came back to me.

Then I saw my sister.

I couldn't remember her name, but the likeness of a gorgeous young woman came floating up along with the impression that I had had a sister. The image of her face was so strong that at first I thought she was something I had created in my mind. Then I felt sure it was Mayu, and I watched her from behind as she organized a pile of things that she'd left behind.

A while ago, back when I was living on my own, I went through a rocky breakup with a boyfriend. Talking to my mother over the phone, tears began to fall from my eyes. My mother stopped in the middle of her sentence and said, "My goodness, Sakumi. You're crying."

I surprised her because I rarely cried, even as a child.

Oh, this person standing next to me really was my mother. There was no mistake about it. I couldn't hurt her. The impression echoed over and over in my mind like the chant of a Buddhist shingon.

She must have thought that I was still under the anesthesia. I had large, black circles under both of my eyes. But when she saw that I had come to and was glancing up at her through my blurred vision, she began to rejoice.

Eventually everything cleared. I realized that by perceiving myself in one way I would manage to go on living, but if I thought about things another way I would only wear myself down. In a matter of seconds I'd been introduced to "Sakumi," and before long I'd received a crash course on her life until then. Of course my real knowledge was limited to what came to me on a day-to-day basis, and from there on out I was forced to live a haphazard life, a balancing act, so to speak. But what else could I do? I was only certain of so much.

"Mother?"

The word just slipped from my mouth. She nodded her head slowly. It was a nod from the heart, full of hope and excitement. I burst out laughing like a new bride. There I was, a newborn in this world, having just uttered my first word, a warm and pleasant word at that. Yet there was something bleak and dreary about me, as if I were nothing more than a little hooligan pretending to be a new bride. My head pounded, and brought with it a pain so intense that the concept of "mother" seemed to drill itself straight into the part of my brain that had become a thick, very thick, piece of compressed flesh. The sound of that word had simultaneously caused a lump to form somewhere near my heart. What could it have been?

Moving my eyes, I saw that it was the middle of the day in my hospital room, and the bright, shining sky streamed into my room from the outside window. The light reminded me of my own consciousness — bright, blue, and completely empty.

My memory would eventually come back to me, but most of it happened gradually, like the words of a letter written in invisible ink slowly seeping through the lemon juice. Still, the glass wall that came between me and myself, something that should have been clear and lucid, was cloudy and unclear. It was like a waterproof wristwatch that somehow manages to trap a drop of moisture within its mechanism, fogging up the outer glass. Regardless of how hard you shake it, the water doesn't go away. But that's okay. It didn't matter anymore.

***

When I got home from work the next afternoon, I knocked cheerfully on my brother's door. I've often thought that when something this interesting happens at home, the only way to approach it is directly. Hence, the interview.

"Come in." It was Yoshio's voice.

Opening the door and entering the room, I saw my brother sitting at his desk, his shoulders bent over. Looking closer, I could see that he was fervently scribbling tiny characters all over a piece of B5-size manuscript paper.

"I hear you're becoming a writer?" I asked.

"Yeah." My brother nodded, obviously not too concerned with the conversation.

"Do you want to write mysteries like Jiro Akagawa?" I said, recalling that only a few months earlier Yoshio had really been into a number of his books.

"No," my brother said, shaking his head. "Classics like Akutagawa." I could see the seriousness in his eyes. Without warning I felt tired, as if I had had the wind knocked out of me. There was an aura around my brother that hadn't been there before, just like there was something new about me. It pierced straight through my heart.

"What about Mayu's old boyfriend, Ryu-chan? He's considered to be more than a pop writer, you know." I was referring, of course, to the man my sister had lived with when she died, Ryuichiro. He was a writer of cult fiction, the only writer I knew.

"Yeah, I respect him a lot," Yoshio said. "He's a good writer."

Ryuichiro.

I recalled how difficult his book had been, so vague and abstract.

"You mean you read his book and understood it?" I asked.

"No, not really," Yoshio replied. "But when I look at the pages, they give me a good feeling. I suppose I could say the whole book has a nice fragrance about it."

"Hmm..." I'd never thought about books that way before. All I knew was his book, in particular, was dark fiction, so dark that I wasn't sure if I would ever know what he was trying to get at.

My brother continued, "When I read it I remembered Mayu."

Now it was clear, and I nodded my head in reply. Her face was the beauty of perfect independence, a galaxy of possibilities. It delicately encompassed everything, all on its own. That's why I was having such an absurdly painful time recalling it. It was natural and straightforward, something like a flower, so moist and sweet it released a soft perfume, just like Yoshio had said.

I love her face — the image of my sister.

Even now I see her in my dreams, smiling.

"Well then, write a good book and let your big sister read it," I said.

"Will do," Yoshio replied. For some reason when I looked at him he seemed more like an adult than a child.

"But I..." I stopped for a moment. "I really want you to turn out okay, Yoshio. Even if you become a writer, that still doesn't make you better than the other boys your age. I want you to grow up to be the kind of guy who makes girls go crazy. You know, a good-looking guy who can write well, too. That would be so much better than turning out like those boys with bad manners."

"Gotcha. I'll watch out."

"So tell me," I said. "Why the change? I mean, all of a sudden here you are, acting like an adult, all smart and clever, and you're writing. What's gotten into you? Come on, you can tell me. I promise to keep it a secret from Mom." I grinned as I spoke.

Seriousness returned to his eyes and he said, "Something happened to me — up here." He pointed to his forehead.

"What?"

"They came in a dream, a bunch of gods, saying all sorts of weird things. That's when it happened — I got all changed inside. Now my mind won't stop working. I just think about things, you know, like how strange people are. We eat, poop, and pee, and our hair grows long. There's no way of stopping it. Even though we're only who we are, right this very second, we still bring up the past and worry about the future. It's so weird! And when I think about those things, I figure the only way I'm going to explain how I feel is by writing my thoughts down. Something tells me that if I make up stories about different people in different places, I'll finally get a grip on what I have to say."

I had to be impressed by a discourse like that. "Okay," I said, "I understand, and you have my full support. But I want you to remember something — something that I've dreamed about for a long time: One day when you're in high school, once you've grown big and tall, I see the two of us going downtown to buy a present for your girlfriend. We'll pick out something fancy, and I'll pitch in some money to help you buy it. Then we'll have tea at a nice, chic cafe in one of the department stores where cool grown-ups shop downtown. I know I might be asking a lot, but ever since you were born I've been thinking about how wonderful a date like that will be — ever since that cold day you blew into our house with the fallen snow."

"I'll remember," my brother said.

Relieved, I sat down and picked up a book that was lying next to me on the floor. I glanced at the title: 100 Real-Life Mysteries.

"What's this?" I asked, holding up the book.

"Oh!" my brother said with excitement. "That's really interesting." His face seemed to finally reflect the child that was in him.

"Huh..." I said, flipping through the loose pages. I stopped at one spot and began reading:

A WOMAN WITH TWO MEMORIESEver since a freak automobile accident, Mary Hector of Texas has had recollections of a life quite different from her own. This forty-two-year-old housewife lived a tranquil life with her husband, a high school teacher, and their two boys until the day she was hit by an approaching vehicle on the way to pick up her husband from work. The other driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. Although Mary sustained several serious wounds, reports indicate that there was no injury to the brain. Two months after being released from the hospital, she realized that she had a complete set of separate memories, far from what she remembered about her own life as Mary Hector. The second memory came from a young girl who had died of pneumonia at age seventeen in Columbus, Ohio. Her name was Mary Sontag. Since Mary Hector could remember everything from Mary Sontag's mother's name to the name of the high school she had attended, she consulted with her husband over the issue. After doing some research to confirm the validity of Mary's vivid "second recollection," evidence was found that proved a Mary Sontag had existed in Columbus, Ohio. Studies have shown that people with two memories, although extremely rare, do exist. However, Mary's situation remains an exception. The resemblance between the two women might stop at their first names, but that does not explain this extraordinarily unique phenomenon.

"Wow, pretty interesting," I said.

"Don't you think so?" Yoshio replied, sounding like an expert.

Closing the book, I stood up and said good-bye, and headed for my room. I figured it would be okay to leave my little brother alone, since there didn't appear to be anything wrong. It was winter, and the corridor between our rooms was chilly. Every inch of the hallway seemed saturated with the scent of night. The glass window that ran the length of the hallway was pitch black, and I gazed into it, hoping that along with my face it would reflect all I had lost in memory.

***

That night I had a peculiar dream.

I dreamed that I was sitting on a bench, staring across a vast landscape spread out endlessly before me. The sky was frighteningly blue, a blue so thick it looked like a Jell-O mold. I felt like I would be sucked into it at any moment. The color burst up from the horizon, rising endlessly into the heavens, in a gradation clear enough to touch. Nothing could prevent the sky from rising. There was just the dry air, parched earth, and a few buildings popping up here and there, forming a border along the horizon.

I'd never seen this place before, not once in my entire lifetime. It was overwhelming. As I sat on the oak bench examining my surroundings, a dusty wind came up and blew my hair. I glanced over and realized I was not alone. A woman was sitting next to me on the bench. In my dream I recognized her immediately.

Could I be in Texas?

No, it could have been anywhere. Then again, it must have been nowhere. It was a place where heaven and earth come together, a place where one dream unites with another, a place where the sweet, dry wind blows on forever.

I began to speak. "Mary, please share with me your thoughts on memory. Mine has been giving me a lot of trouble lately."

Her eyes were blue, a color that looked like it would melt into the sky. I was despondent, surrounded by too much of the same color. Was it because the color melted two people's lives into one? The sea of our memories, the echoes of the past — that color seemed to have it all.

She glanced up and said in a low voice, "The me that's only me is the only me that I can't remember." She smiled. "Sounds like a child's word game."

I looked at the deeply cut wrinkles in the corners of her eyes.

She continued, "I'm in the kitchen getting dinner ready, or looking at the sunset — that's when it happens. I feel remorse during those everyday moments, when I'm not doing anything in particular. It's like there's a devil in my heart trying to make me feel bad about what happened, you know? Whenever that feeling comes over me, I think to myself that maybe that's something from the other Mary. In other words, it's gone that far — her memories have melted into my own. Of course, a part of me thinks that my own life is just as important as hers — but don't get me wrong: I don't hate her, even though she did get inside me by some bizarre twist of fate."

"But is it possible," I interrupted, "to know if you ever existed without her?" I looked off into the distance, realizing how desperate I had been for someone to talk to. "I know that concerning myself with things like that I'll never make it out on my own, but every so often I just lash out in pain. It hurts, really hurts. I try looking at the stars, or my brother, and everything looks familiar, but at the same time something keeps telling me I'm seeing things differently than before. I feel like I've died and come back to life."

Mary lowered her head, and stayed silent for a while. Finally she glanced over to me with a faint smile. At that point I realized Mary had a much stronger recollection of death than I did, because even though she was sitting with me on the bench, somewhere inside all of her memory she really had passed away. How could she put up with such a thing? It was so frightening. She and I were there without permission, in a world with a landscape too vast for our eyes, not to mention that she'd have to go through the pain of dying all over again.

"Yes, I suppose things like that do happen," Mary said. "And when it happened to me I think I took it much harder than you. But now I see that inside of me there are two spirits viewing the world from my eyes. What could be wrong with that?" She looked away happily.

A drop of water fell from the sky.

"Oh, look," I said. "Rain. Even on a beautiful day like this."

The drop of rain had fallen through the bright rays of the sun from a single white cloud floating against the blue sky. At first I took it for a small fragment of ice, then more raindrops came down, one right after another, landing in our hair — mine black and hers golden yellow. Like something delightful, the rain fell through the warm air, casting a cold shadow around us. The rain was quiet, throwing light across the beautiful scenery like tiny little globes, giving us quick glances of the brilliant sun. Everything looked sweet glittering in the light. Now the world was wet around us, and even though I thought the moisture on my cheeks had fallen from my eyes, when I wiped away the tears I discovered that it was only water from heaven.

"So it's just the four of us now," I said, "the two of you and the two of me, all looking at the sky and the earth and the rain, which fell from a single white cloud."

Mary nodded silently.

I woke up, and for a brief moment longed for the landscape and rain that had shimmered in that sky. It had been a spectacular dream. I don't know why, but it was something to be thankful for.

Yes, I really think so.

Copyright © 1994 by Banana Yoshimoto

Translation copyright © 1997 by Russell F. Wasden

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Meet the Author

Banana Yoshimoto (Tokio, 1964) estudió literatura en la Universidad de Nihon. Con Kitchen (Andanzas 151 y Fábula 17), su primera novela, ganó el Newcomer Writers Prize en 1987, cuando todavía era una estudiante universitaria, y un año después se le concedía por la misma obra el premio literario Izumi Kyoka. Entre otros galardones, ha recibido en Italia el prestigioso Premio Scanno. Yoshimoto es ya autora de una dilatada pero exquisita obra compuesta de ensayos, novelas como N.P. (Andanzas 217 y Fábula 263), Amrita (Andanzas 481 y Fábula 263) y Tsugumi (Andanzas 653), y el libro de relatos Sueño profundo (Andanzas 591 y Maxi 011/1). Desde 1991, año en que Tusquets Editores publicó Kitchen, Yoshimoto se ha convertido, junto con Haruki Murakami, en una de las voces más prestigiosas de la literatura japonesa actual. En Recuerdos de un callejón sin salida la autora aborda, con el estilo prístino que la caracteriza, temas como el desencanto, la amistad o el amor, encarnados en personajes que buscan, en la plácida cotidianidad de los lazos afectivos, la fuerza para seguir viviendo.

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