Garden in the Sky

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Garden in the Sky
Author: Mitsuyo Kakuta
Specifications: ISBN  978-4167672034
276 pages
10.6 x 14.8 cm / 4.2 x 5.9 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Bungeishunju Ltd.
Tokyo, 2002
Awards: Fujin Koron Literary Prize, 2003
Translations: Chinese (Traditional)
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Country Languages Publisher Title ISBN Translator Affiliate Link
Taiwan Chinese (Traditional)
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The Kyobashi family?father Takashi, mother Eriko, 16-year-old daughter Mana, and 14-year-old son Ko?live in the sort of large suburban housing complex that’s filled with row upon row of virtually identical apartments. With a “no secrets and nothing off limits” house rule proclaimed by Eriko, the family talks openly and candidly about subjects unlikely to come up at other dinner tables. One day Mana learns that she was conceived at a love hotel named Wild Monkeys, one of many such establishments crowding the area around the nearby entrance to the toll road, and she decides to go to the place with a boy from her class at school . . .

So begins the first story, narrated by Mana. The other five linked stories are narrated in turn by Takashi, Eriko, Eriko’s mother Satoko, Takashi’s 26-year-old lover Mina, and Ko, each offering a different perspective on what’s going on with themselves, with the family, and with a few outsiders; just enough overlap is provided to give us our bearings as the overall narrative arc advances from story to story. Not surprisingly, the “no secrets” rule is honored with more than a few breaches, making theirs a house filled with much darkness instead of the avowed bright light shining into every corner. Takashi has a second lover in addition to Mina, multiplying his personal list of secrets to keep. To complicate things further, Mina manages, without his prior knowledge, to insert herself into the family home as Ko’s new tutor. Having no inkling of the woman’s relationship with her husband, Eriko invites her to stay for dinner, requiring Takashi to mask his bewilderment when he arrives home to find his illicit lover sitting in his living room. Meanwhile, Eriko will never reveal that she deliberately got pregnant nearly 17 years ago just so she could escape the endless strife she had to endure living with her mother. Returning home from Wild Monkeys with no intention of telling anyone about her visit, Mana muses to herself that the real purpose of her family’s flimsy “no secrets” rule is simply to cover up the many lies on which their lives are founded.

Each harboring his or her own closely guarded secrets, the Kyobashis move about the close quarters of their suburban community in constant danger of running into one another. Most forays away from home, school, or work find them at the Discovery Center, a large shopping mall, which is woven into the fabric of their lives not only as the place for picking up daily necessities, but as the perfect spot for killing time, or meeting with someone, or using as an alibi when arriving home inexplicably late from somewhere. The seemingly free-and-easy suburban lifestyle, symbolized in part by this mall, proves in the course of things to be quite stifling.

With twists and turns, the portrayal of the Kyobashis as a not-so-ordinary “ordinary family” keeps readers chortling over the last lie exposed, the next impossible situation facing somebody, or the secret that’s not so secret after all, until events surrounding the grandmother’s hospitalization hint subtly at change ahead as the final story comes to a close.