summer rains / trace of a poem card/ torn off the wall

Dear Adriana,

Your novel Hut of Fallen Persimmons (2011, tr. Sarah Green. Original title Rakushisha, 2007) caught my attention from its title and its starting point.

Mukai Kioray (1651 – 1704), a Japanese haikai poet who was a close disciple of Matsuo Bashō (1644 – 1694), lived in the “Hut of Fallen Persimmons” (or “Rakushisha”) on the outskirts of Kyoto. Because he had many persimmon trees in his garden, Kioray had been paid advance money by a fruit merchant, who wanted to buy all the ‘kaki fruits’ (Japanese for ‘persimmons’, the ‘red dragon eggs’) from this hut’s garden.

Sadly, that same night, a storm swept through the area, and every single kaki fruit was blown off the trees and ended up crushed on the ground. The fallen persimmons symbolize, since then, a great loss, and, in their honour, Kyorai named his hut Rakushisha (‘the hut of the fallen persimmons’). Basho visited Rakushisha three times. On his second visit, in the summer of 1691, he stayed in the hut for seventeen days, and recorded his sojourn in a diary called ‘Saga Nikki’ (Saga Diary), published in 1753.

Texas Tech University Press 2011 Translated by Sarah Green 168 p. Original title: Rakushisha Original language: Portuguese
Review

You chose this diary as the starting point of your book. Rakushisha is a novel told in three intertwined voices: Basho’s diary (Saga Diary); Celina, a Brazilian embroidery artist; and Haruki, a Brazilian illustrator of Japanese descent. Each of these voices plays the part of a line in a kind of haiku whose three verses are strangely intertwined.

When Haruki is given the task of illustrating the first Brazilian edition of the Saga Diary, he  wins a scholarship to travel to Japan, where he could get inspiration for his designing of the book. The paths of the two protagonists collide then by chance. A few days before embarking to Japan, and while perusing the original diary in Japanese, Haruki is approached by Celina on a subway in Rio de Janeiro. She, a complete stranger, suddenly asks him: “This book you are reading, is it written in Japanese or in Chinese?”

After a brief flirtation, on impulse, Haruki invites Celina to accompany him to Japan. When she, out of the blue, accepts his invitation, we are lead to believe that this trip will be, for both of them, an important rite of passage. The loss symbolized by the image of the fallen persimmons guides their paths as their trip begins. Haruki and Celina use this break from their normal routines to reflect on  unresolved issues from their past. Both of them are emotionally stagnant, unable to move beyond certain events that had caused them pain: Haruki is in love with a married woman who will not leave her husband; Celina, on the other hand, due to some misfortune which will be gradually revealed to the reader, wants to be left alone.

Traveling together to a foreign place is an unexpected opportunity both for Haruki and Celina to revisit, each in their own way, their open wounds. Thrown into the whirlwind of the exotic Japanese culture, the protagonists are faced with the need to dig through their pains, in an attempt to return to their former selves, following the maps of their private wounds. This trip, we soon discover, takes place mainly from the inside out.  Basho’s diary is like a guide for this difficult crossing. Their main luggage is their memory.

basho's haiku at rakushisha-
Basho’s haiku at Rakushisha

Your writing style resembles a haiku: it is concise, almost impressionistic, and open for conclusions. The boundaries between prose and poetry are blurred, like water stains on ink. The sentences are short and seem to point out to something that is never said: a hidden meaning that is situated, at once, both inside and outside the text. You seem to write in calligraphy strokes, but quietly so.

Time frames, places and voices are interwoven in the plot: excerpts from Basho’s diary and some of his haiku; Celina’s journal entries, written in first person; and, finally, the narration in third person about Haruki’s daily life. The narrative goes back and forth in time, in a piecemeal fashion. The background ranges from Rio de Janeiro to Kyoto – places that,  such as watercolor paintings, blur themselves on paper. The same facts are sometimes told in different ways, from different perspectives, as if you were building and rebuilding them: as origami foldings, roads taken or not, scars on the paper.

We follow Haruki and Celine in their rites of passage, as they open their wounds and retrace their paths – like one who folds and unfolds a piece of paper. This journey, like a cocoon, is woven from the outside to the inside. “A butterfly cocoon inside the throat, operating some kind of internal transformation.” This is an uncertain itinerary, and a discontinuous one, covered by a thin layer of dust and dried salt. Digging through memories is the only way to cross this fragile pellicle, to break the cocoon, come to the other side, and move on.

Yours truly,

J.

Hoitsu Sakai. "Persimmon tree".
Hoitsu Sakai. “Persimmon tree”.

“summer rains

trace of a poem card

torn off the wall”

– Basho


About the book

  • Texas Tech University Press, 2011, transl. Sarah Green, 168 p.
  • Original title: Rakushisha
  • First publiched in 2007
  • Goodreads
  • My rating: 5 stars
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