Satellite Love: A Novel by Genki Ferguson

But I still can’t let go of what I wanted to believe as a child. I don’t imagine any of us ever do.

When Anna was younger, she spoke to satellites, but now that she’s older, they don’t respond. A lonely satellite herself, she has a lot on her shoulders, caring for her elderly grandfather who is lost in his own confusing world of senility while her mother is gone weeks at a time. In his mind, that is more of a sieve, he forgets he has a granddaughter and it is his ever questioning mind, lost in a maze of time, that is heartbreaking. At school Anna is an outcast, to them, a child who will never grow out of her fantastical daydreams, a target to be mocked and ignored. It seems no one in her universe understands her but one night a Low Earth Orbit satellite, Leo, comes to life under her penetrating gaze. The birth of Leo is a gorgeous meditation on what makes us real, the grace of love and attention, in stark comparison with the erasure of indifference.

Leo learning about humanity, and Anna’s world in particular is both horrifying and exhilarating. That even a satellite turned boy can immediately pick up on the ostracism, the parts of herself that make her stick out and put people off, makes for an emotional study of our intolerance. Anna’s life, he observes, is nothing but a constant test she is bound to fail.

Anna wants Leo to become his own person, to combat becoming her mirror. He is just a ghost of a thing, unseen to all but her. Anna is Leo’s creator, and is ashamed of bringing him to this rotten earth. Anna is many things, but like all of us, she is deeply flawed and Leo isn’t the only being she has brought to life with her hungry need for love, friendship. Soon, Leo spends his time trying to comprehend his creator, but she is just as alien to the world she inhabits as he. Her tragedy slowly unfolds with Leo as her sole witness. Anna realizes her mistake was in bringing Leo to earth and devises a plan, she will build a machine that will put the two of them where they truly belong, and as the millennium comes to a close (it is 1999, Japan where the story takes place) timing couldn’t be more perfect.

Soki has moved with his mother and father to Sakita, dissappointed in this new city that feels like ‘a city filled with ghosts’. A forgotten place left behind by the rest of the world, lacking in progress. His father hails from a long line of Shinto priests in charge of looking after the shrine, one day he left it for good, never explaining why. This has been a great shock to Soki, whose path was to follow in his footsteps. His father now works as an ‘urban planner’, the family of three moving around often, leaving Soki yearning for their life before. In the city mall parking lot Anna happens upon their car where he sits waiting for his mother, and the two strike up a conversation. The two cross paths again at school, and fall into a discussion on religion, and ‘kami’. Will he become her friend or turn out to be just like everyone else?

There are moments the author so perfectly pins what it means to be human, ” I had been so caught up in Anna as an idea, I had forgotten about Anna as a person.” It is an absolute for us all as we are all guilty of loving versions of people, of casting them as we see fit in our own story. We are always projecting our needs and our demons, missing the sum of one another, and we must include ourselves, denying our own parts, sometimes only seeing the edges of who we are. Anna is slipping away, and no one of flesh and blood (beyond her satellite boy Leo) is truly playing witness, caught up in their own life stories. Anna fails Leo too, though, as she has her other imagined creations. There are other characters that make for an interesting read as we journey through Anna’s mind. Anna visits an elderly, deaf and blind man named The General. His life is shrouded in mystery and as they communicate through Morse Code, she is digging for wisdom and missing what is in front of her eyes.

Nothing about life is any clearer for Anna than it is for her senile grandfather, new boy Soki nor Leo. She is struggling and all she wants is to escape into the vastness of space. I ached for each character but Anna most of all. What a gorgeous novel.

Publication Date: March 2, 2021

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McClelland & Stewart

There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job: by Kikuko Tsumura

I’d quit my previous job after I developed burnout syndrome, and had gone back to living with my parents in order to recuperate.

After burnout syndrome, a job that requires very little of her energy seems to be our narrator’s goal, the problem is ‘There Is No Such Thing As An Easy Job.’ With her unemployment insurance running out, she has no choice but to seek the help of a job recruiter. Surprisingly, she has the perfect posting of overseeing (surveilling) one Mr. Yamae Yamamoto, a seemingly ‘cushy assignment’- until it isn’t. Jobs send people like her ‘funny in the head’. How do others maintain their sanity, their very energy without becoming limp humans themselves in any job? How can she possibly find a profession with the right pace, that asks little of her? Could creating audio adverts be the solution, for businesses that come and go, places that seem to exist on the fringe of the bustling cities? Places she never paid mind to before, that leave her with an unsettled feeling?

Is it possible not to get too emotionally involved in one’s job? Maybe if she can concern herself with ‘cracker packets’, try as she might, she just doesn’t feel well suited to any job and yet she begins to feel something like a sense of attachment with a desire to quit at the same time. Just what exactly does she want in career? Working for parks maintenance should be an easy desk job, even if it’s in a hut ‘amid the quietude’ of the forest. Even if she is left with an uneasy feeling and strange, inexplicable things happen. It takes five jobs to discover that fulfillment is never a given, jobs are just like everything else in life, open to interpretation but never void of meaning. For people struggling with indifference in their career or stripped to the bone with exhaustion, this is a thoughtful detour. Not exactly life altering depth, more a meditation on the search for fulfillment. It was a decent read whose narrator has a certain appeal. It’s amusing to think that anyone imagines there exists a job without hardship. Though translated from Japanese, work bonds us all.

Publication Date: March 23, 2021

Bloomsbury USA

What’s Left Of Me Is Yours: A Novel by Stephanie Scott

I was raised by my grandfather, Yoshi Sarashima.

I lived with him in a white house in Meguro, Tokyo.

In the evenings he would read to me.

He told me every story but my own.

This was an unusual, beautifully written, debut novel based on the “wakaresaseya”, which translates to “breaker-upper”. It is a genuine business in Japan that ‘specializes in breaking up relationships by luring a partner into an affair or using incriminating evidence against said partner.’ The Japanese are more likely to retreat from personal unpleasantness and what is more heated than facing a partner you want to leave, whatever your reasons? It is so much easier to force your beloved to set the wheels in motion. When Satō hires Kaitarō “Kai”, a wakaresaseya agent, to seduce his wife Rina he doesn’t imagine that as Kaitarō’s subject she will become more to him than just a thirty-year-old housewife with a penchant for cheesecake. He will have two months to get the job done, collecting evidence that will give Satō the advantage he needs to divorce Rina, who doesn’t believe in it, and win custody of their daughter, Sumiko. Satō requires the agency to make his wife’s desire to leave her marriage so intense that she is willing to sacrifice everything.

The transaction is anything but clean and leaves Sumiko with a life built on the many lies her grandfather, a lawyer she is modeling her own future after, tells her about Rina’s death. Nothing is as he told her, with a phone call from the Ministry of Justice meant for her grandfather a series of questions about her mother’s death arise in her mind. With little answers in her grandfather’s files on her mother, she decides to make her way to the Shinagawa police station and so begins a story of crime and passion.

Rina’s life revolves around motherhood, with little happiness outside of it. When Kaitarō reveals his passion for photography, he has discovered the perfect way to breach her private world. Certainly her own husband isn’t forthcoming with insight into Rina’s heart, knowing and caring so little for her as a person. Rina is filled with the light of Kaitarō’s desire for her, no longer invisible as she was before meeting him. Despite the professional fakery he has mastered, Kaitarō isn’t immune to desire himself, and is finding himself caught in his own trap. Rina’s skill as a photographer, a passion she has hung up on a shelf to focus on marriage and motherhood, burns like a fire within her. Too, she seems to understand things about Kai’s past with a tenderness he has never known. With her, he is ‘slipping back into his own skin’. How dangerous love can be.

As desires of the heart get muddied, Kai begins screwing up his job and the client (Rina’s husband) changes plans. Rina must think like a mother, it all comes down to choices, it always has for her. Everything we do has consequences and it’s not always possible to put an end to what has been set in motion. Machinations always have a domino effect and Sumiko is living proof. The two important man in Rina’s life are deceiving her, and it will end in violence. What is choice? What is love? Does our intent change our ‘sins’? The horrors of the past cannot be erased, the truth will out, but who is the monster? When Sumiko tries to make sense from the traces of her mother’s past and the fleeting memories of her childhood, she uncovers that there is more to the story than just facts. The only solid fact is that she is the collateral.

Sumiko has been haunted by the idea of her mother, for the first time she will see her Rina and her tragic fate through the eyes of a lover, a husband and a father. What remains is what Sumiko herself must live with.

What’s Left Of Me Is Yours is a love story, but not just between Rina and Kai. The protective nature of Sumiko’s grandfather is an ache. In fantasies we always make the correct choices, we push forward with refreshing honesty, we don’t build “cocoons of silence”. The real love is born in the aftermath of appalling tragedy; not all love stories are romantic. This tale was a worm in my heart, beautiful and horrifying. I read the novel months ago and waited to review it closer to the release date and the heavy sorrows still linger. Beautifully written and asks uncomfortable questions about desire, love and family.

Publication Date: June 23, 2020