A collection of eight linked stories in which a writer in his mid-seventies—the first-person narrator who appears to be author Yoshikichi Furui’s double—ruminates over what he encounters in the course of his days. All but the title story recount events that take place over the span of roughly a year beginning in 2012, with the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011 still casting its long shadow over the narratives in various ways. The writer’s mind wanders freely back and forth between the present and the past, recalling the time he fled for safety with his mother during the firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945, or when he was bedridden with a serious illness. His memory is often shaky, sometimes including fabrications, sometimes muddied by things he has heard from others, with the result that reality tilts naturally into the realm of imagination.
The title story is of particular interest because it differs from others in Furui’s collections of recent years in not being an autobiographical “I-novel,” but rather a story centering on imagined characters. Two men in their early thirties—Asakura and Shinohara—go on a two-day trek, beginning in one remote valley and crossing over a mountain into another valley. It is the end of autumn. Asakura’s live-in girlfriend of three years died two months ago, and as he was disposing of her effects, he had come upon his own mountain gear in the closet. He considered throwing it out, but instead decided to see if his old friend Shinohara might be interested in an outing. For his part, Shinohara has recently made up his mind to ask his girlfriend to move in with him next spring. The two men find a place to stay the night along the route, and the following morning, they are still half asleep when the sound of a temple bell wakens them. They think it must be the bell at a temple in extreme disrepair they passed along the way, but an old man at the inn tells them the place has neither a resident priest nor a bell. Had they experienced a shared hallucination? After saying goodbye to Asakura, Shinohara goes to his girlfriend’s house, but then takes to his bed for three days. The woman had had an ominous feeling about Shinohara traveling with a friend who had just come out of mourning, and now she concludes that something malign must have taken possession of him in the mountains. Could the sound of a bell tolling from valley to valley have meant that an exchange of souls took place between the one man, separated by death from the woman with whom he shared his life, and the other, who was about to begin sharing his? The fluctuations of the human heart are captured in a true gem of a story whose deep resonance lingers long after the final page is turned.