The first-person narrator, who appears to be a stand-in for the author himself, is studying abroad in France when he happens upon an old picture postcard written and sent before World War II with what appears to be a poem in the message space. It intrigues him and he feels a strong desire to know more about the person who penned it. Although this sets up what is in effect a puzzler, the narrator never fully solves the mystery of the man who wrote the poem, nor of the woman to whom it was addressed. Yet readers will find themselves carried along by the marvelous fluidity of the prose in this highly satisfying read.
It is at a flea market in southwestern France that the narrator finds the postcard. The curious photo of an abandoned structure that appears to be an oddly shaped silo or barn of some kind is what first catches his eye, but the poem in neatly-penned script on the back stirs a far more powerful interest. The card is postmarked June 15, 1938, it is addressed to a Nathalie Depardon, and the sender’s name is given only as André L. More than half a century has gone by since the card was sent. The verse has ten lines, all of equal length. The narrator subsequently finds three similar picture postcards from the same sender, as well as a small booklet with a ten-line verse signed “André L.” He translates the five poems into Japanese and tries to imagine what sort of person wrote them, and what his circumstances must have been.
The narrator visits France several more times as the years go by, and each time he does what he can to pursue the mystery of the postcard poet. Through a number of slim and even purely fortuitous connections, he manages to determine that the man’s full name was André Louchet, and that he was a financial auditor by occupation. He is ultimately able to meet Louchet’s granddaughter as well as a friend of his son, and asks them about his character and circumstances, but the portrait he pieces together remains fragmented and murky. It does become clear that Louchet worked as a spy for the French Resistance against Nazi occupation during World War II.
The narrator frequently returns to the deeply felt poems attributed to Louchet. Even if the verses and the man said to have written them were created out of whole cloth by author Toshiyuki Horie, the premise that sets readers’ imaginations aflight and the magical language of the narrative are utterly enthralling.
Incomplete as the picture of the uniquely gifted Louchet is, the narrator reconstructs his life across the passage of nearly eight decades with a penetrating eye in this masterful work that demonstrates the full possibilities and power of the novel as a form of temporal art.