Fabulous Fiction Firsts #781
Fri, 06/04/2021 - 8:41am by muffy
The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World,* * Laura Imai Messina’s English-language debut (translated from the Italian by Lucy Rand) is an international bestseller (also available in downloadable eBook and audiobook). It is inspired by the author’s visit to a wind phone (風の電話, kaze no denwa) in Otsuchi, (Iwate Prefecture, in the Tōhoku region of northern Japan), a rural town decimated by the 2011 tsunami.
On March 11, 2011, an earthquake off the coast of Japan caused a tsunami that reached miles inland, killing an estimated 15,897 people, among them Yui’s mother and 3-year-old daughter. Relocated to Tokyo, she makes the arduous journey every month to the garden created by artist Itaru Sasaki where visitors could hold one-way conversations with deceased loved ones in an old disused telephone booth. But once there, radio host Yui finds that she cannot bring herself to speak into the receiver.
Instead she finds Tokyo surgeon Takeshi, a bereaved husband whose own daughter has stopped talking in the wake of her mother’s death. Over time, they form a deep connection to the place, to each other, and others who make use of the phone.
“This wonderful, gentle, hopeful story leads the reader through the beginning of Yui and Takeshi’s 30 years together. Through their sorrow and grief, they learn how to let happiness, hope, joy, and laughter reside side by side with their memories of loss. It is a beautifully written book. Messina, an Italian who has lived in Tokyo for 15 years, writes in a way that’s evocative of Kazuo Ishiguro but in an opposite way: While Ishiguro leads with comfort and hints at the sadness to come, Messina offers grief and sadness first but offers the reader a trail of breadcrumbs toward future happiness. A must-read. “ (Kirkus Reviews)
Since it has been opened to the public, the wind phone has received over 30,000 visitors. A number of replicas (including one in Aspen Mountain, Colorado to commemorate persons who died in the COVID-19 pandemic) have been constructed around the world. It is the inspiration for several novels and films, including The Phone Booth in Mr. Hirota's Garden, a 2019 picture book by Canadian writer Heather Smith.
* * = 2 starred reviews