February 17, 2009

Paper-wrapped goodies

Today I put a notebook in my bag, and that notebook happened to contain a passage I scribbled down on a particular rainy day I spent in the NYPL last summer. I finished Banana Yoshimoto's Goodbye, Tsugumi in one sitting. I remember this quite clearly because I seldom finish books in one sitting (especially in public). The only similar instance I can recall happened that very same summer, actually: Steve Martin's The Pleasure of My Company (completed at a Barnes&Noble). Usually this tells me nothing more about the novel than that it was short and probably good (but not necessarily great). But even good-not-great books have passages that inspire me to pull out pen and paper, lest I forget.

Goodbye, Tsugumi is both upbeat and heavy, with an effortless kind of storytelling that makes you keep rooting for it, even if the content isn't always so light.

There are definitely lighter parts, though, i.e. the parts involving food.

"Suddenly my father spoke. 'Hey Maria, want a senbei?'
'Huh?' I said, looking back over my shoulder.
My father was just removing two rice crackers wrapped in paper from his briefcase, making a sort of bumbling, crumply paper noise but handling them extremely carefully.
He put them down on the table.
'One is for your mother.'
'I'm confused. Why do you have only two?' I asked, puzzled.
'Someone from another company came in today and he brought a box of these along as a little present,' explained my father. 'I had one and it was so delicious that, well, you know, I kind of snuck these out for the two of you. Trust me, these senbei are really, really good.
[several paragraphs later]:
I felt the way non-Japanese must feel when they encounter senbei for the first time, with the very first bite I took, the intense flavor of the soy sauce in the coating flooded my mouth. It really was delicious. I told my father this, and he nodded contentedly."
But life isn't always all senbei and roses for our narrator Maria, who has a pensive independence about her:
"I guess when you're out on the ocean and you see the piers way off in the distance, shrouded in mist, you understand this very clearly: No matter where you are, you're always a bit on your own, always an outsider."
p.s. This is the second post in a row that features a passage with some kind of delectable treat wrapped in paper. Are the two (tastiness and paper wrapping) directly correlated? Is it the sound of the crumpling, or the anticipation of folding it away to reveal the treat, that makes it extra special? I know I certainly enjoy receiving a nice piece of tissue paper with my doughnut or bagel or scone purchase:


p.p.s. Doesn't the "shrouded in mist" part remind you of the beginning of Great Expectations? Perhaps Dickens and Yoshimoto have more in common than I thought.

p.p.p.s. Senbei is a type of Japanese cracker flavored with soy sauce. An interesting recipe here.