Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

RainbirdsRainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Since I review a lot of mysteries, I should begin by saying that although there is a murder here, and it does get solved, the book is not really the sort of murder mystery that appeals to mystery fans. It’s really more of a psychological drama mixed with a bit of a romance novel. The main character, Ren Ishida, a recent Keio University graduate, decamps to a small town to investigate the murder of his beloved older sister. Ren is young and handsome, and apparently quite the roue. He takes a temporary job teaching English at a cram school, the same school where his sister had been working. He soon gets to know the people in his sister’s life, and gets to know himself a lot better, too.

The most interesting aspect of this book to me was the portrayal of Japanese life. I don’t know how accurate it is now, but it does not at all comport with the Japan I knew in the 1960s when I was an exchange student there. If accurate, it depicts a much more westernized country at least in the aspect of dating and sex than I knew back then. When I was there most university students still met their spouses through their parents and relatives, and premarital sex was almost unknown, at least among the upper class. If a boy asked a girl out, usually after a year or two working up the courage, it was almost tantamount to a marriage proposal. The characters in this book are as randy and casual about sex as American millenials.

The book is well-written, although stylistically it may sound a bit stilted to American ears. But that’s because it adheres to the semi-formal and somewhat dated manner of English speech that I know from my Japanese days, so it is authentic. In the end, I felt that the plot didn’t really lead anywhere very satisfying, but overall it was interesting enough to garner three stars.

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