The Waxing and Waning of the Moon

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The Waxing and Waning of the Moon
Author: Shōgo Satō
Specifications: ISBN  978-4000014083
322 pages
13.8 x 19.4 cm / 5.5 x 7.7 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Iwanami Shoten, Publishers
Tokyo, 2017
Awards: Naoki Prize, 2017
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The story of a love cut short by death—but that then persists over multiple reincarnations. The event that sets everything in motion is an illicit love affair that takes place in the mid-1980s between Ruri Masaki, 27, and Akihiko Misumi, 20, a college student. Ruri’s husband of four years, Ryūnosuke, is an architect who works for a major construction firm. Business travel often takes him away from home, creating the opportunity for both of them to stray. Ruri first meets Misumi on a day in early July when she is out for a walk and takes shelter from the rain at a soon-to-open video store where he works part-time. The two become intimate over time and fall in love, but then in December of that same year, Ruri dies when she is shoved onto the tracks in front of an arriving train by two men who get into a fight on a subway platform.

Something Ruri said at an assignation just a week before the accident is etched indelibly in Misumi’s memory. She told him that a senior colleague at her husband’s workplace had killed himself that May leaving behind a suicide note saying, “I decided to see what dying is like.” Not a single person living has experienced death, so no one knows what happens after we die. She thought trying it out was a legitimate option, and said she’d be willing to do it herself. In fact, if Misumi ever stopped loving her, she would do her own test run of dying, and come back as a sweet and beautiful young thing to capture Misumi’s eye again. She went on to say that God offers those born into this world a choice of two ways of dying. The first is to die and leave behind descendants. The second is to die and be reborn over and over, like the waxing and waning of the moon. She would choose the latter.

This “first generation” Ruri is subsequently reborn as Ruri Osanai, Nozomi Konuma, and Ruri Midorisaka. At the age of seven, each of these girls experiences an unexplained high fever, during which they all become aware that they are the same person as the original Ruri. They not only know details of the lives of all previous Ruris, but they also share a distinctive mannerism in which they show the tip of their tongue. And even though they are only seven years old when they gain this awareness, they begin repeatedly running away from home in an effort to see Misumi. With no idea that their daughters are transmigrations of a soul from an earlier life, their parents are utterly mystified by the eccentric behavior, and their lives are rocked with turbulence. Only at the end of the story does it become clear that Misumi believed in the original Ruri’s reincarnations and accepted his fate from the beginning. Master of the intricate and tricky plot, author Shōgo Satō unfolds the checkered life of Ruri, who would by the end be 60 years old if she had lived, in a manner that is divorced from the normal dictates of time (60 years is generally regarded as “one full lifetime” based on the sexagenary cycle, the traditional way of reckoning time in East Asian cultures). He draws the reader into the story by seamlessly blending the impossible with the real in a way that prompts one to willingly suspend disbelief. Joining the reader in finding himself increasingly willing to believe the impossible is the other main character in the story, Tsuyoshi Osanai.

At the beginning of the tale, Tsuyoshi is 61 years old. He spent his working career at a mid-sized oil company, but now lives with his elderly mother in his native Hachinohe in northern Honshu. On this particular day, he has come to Tokyo on the Bullet Train for a meeting with actress Yui Midorisaka and her seven-year-old daughter Ruri at a coffee shop in the Tokyo Station Hotel. Misumi is also supposed to come, but he is perhaps running late, for he has yet to appear. This meeting, which lasts three hours, forms the framework for the overall tale, with Tsuyoshi gradually revealing the astonishing truth he has come to accept over the course of recent months based on numerous pieces of evidence: that the reincarnation of Ruri is real. In short order we learn that Tsuyoshi lost his wife Kozue and 18-year-old daughter Ruri in a traffic accident 15 years ago. Yui was a close friend of his daughter and she has asked Tsuyoshi to bring to today’s meeting a portrait that his daughter painted when she was in high school. With one look at the portrait, Ruri Midorisaka claims that she painted it and begins recounting details of her previous life with Tsuyoshi and Kozue. The portrait is that of a young Misumi whom Ruri cannot possibly have met. It is a gripping set-up for the story that is to follow.

Each of the reincarnated Ruris tries to find her way to Misumi. Fifteen years ago the 18-year-old Ruri Osanai headed for Tokyo to meet Misumi in a car driven by her mother. Eight years ago Nozomi Konuma sweet-talked Ryūnosuke Masaki, whom she had met, and headed for the Nagoya Branch where Misumi was then stationed. Both attempts ended in tragic traffic accidents. While still only in elementary school, the fourth Ruri finally succeeds in being reunited with Misumi, who now heads the General Affairs Department at the Tokyo headquarters of a major construction contractor. The desperate determination of the young Ruris pulls on readers’ heartstrings.

Near the end, there are hints that Mizuki Aratani, the middle-school daughter of a single mother in her forties Tsuyoshi recently began seeing, is a reincarnation of Tsuyoshi’s wife Kozue. The implication is that if people would only pay attention to the signs, they would realize that reincarnation is occurring constantly all around them.

A seasoned author in complete control of the devices of novelistic writing has produced a masterpiece overflowing with all the delights fiction can offer.