Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Love We Share Without Knowing

I was sent a copy of The Love We Share Without Knowing by the author after reading Becky's post that he was willing to send 10 copies of his book to the first 10 requests. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time (I do not find myself in this position very often and I must admit that I enjoyed it). This is Christopher Barzak's 2nd book, and I must confess that I did not read the first one. I truly had no pre-conceived idea nor expectation when I opened the book, which is probably a good thing. The book is not a novel really, but rather a series of short stories that are held together by a very thin thread of common relationships. I wish I knew how to draw a story web in blogger's browser, because that is the only way that I think I can adequately present the connections. All the stories take place in Tokyo, or its surrounding towns and villages, and half the stories center around Americans living in Tokyo, while the other half center around Japanese citizens.

The story opens with an American family who has just recently been transferred to Tokyo. The teenage boy is having a difficult time assimilating into the new culture, so as a means of escape he runs…and runs…and runs. On one of his jogs he comes upon a small cottage in the woods and sees a fox – which somehow gives him a sense of peace when he returns home. Later, in an effort to "find" himself, the boy ventures to the city of Tokyo where he runs into a girl dressed in a fox's costume. The girl – and the fox he met in the woods – have the same green eyes and he instantly feels a connection to her. He learns that she lives close to him in the same village, but when he goes to visit her the next day, he discovers that she had committed suicide several years before.

This leads into the next story where a group of 4 Japanese strangers – turn friends – are so discouraged with life that they decide to form a suicide pact. One of the 4 happens to be the best friend of the girl who committed suicide several years before (there is the loose connection between the two stories). They follow through with the pact – but only 3 are successful.

The best friend of the girl who committed suicide works (or did work until her suicide attempt) as the receptionist for a company/school that hires young Americans to teach English in the Japanese schools. There is a group of 4 "veteran" teachers who hang out together – and one of the short stories centers around them. There is also a new group of American teachers that have just arrived for the start of a school year, and one of the stories focuses on one of the young male teachers in this group. He is lonely and confused, and in the middle of the winter season is befriended by a stranger on the streets of Tokyo. The two become quite close and maintain a gay relationship. In time, however, the American feels suffocated by his lover, but for various reasons cannot leave.

Another storyline is connected because one of the 4 who forms the suicide pact is/was dating a punk rock star. Upon her suicide attempt – which does not seem to phase him in the least – he meets an attractive girl on the train, they hook up at a "love hotel" and you can surmise the rest. However, after their rendez-vous, the girl becomes too emotional/sentimental for his "seize the day" mindset and they part ways: his way leads to blindness and eventually coming in contact with one of the 4 "veteran" English teachers; her way is to become more conservative and eventually come in contact with the victimized lover.

There are other plot lines to be sure – but all of them have that incredibly thin thread of connectivity.

Did I like the book? I think so. It is certainly thought-provoking and enabled me to see that a life without love is no life at all. Each chapter in the book pertains to a different set of circumstances, different culture of people, but all trying to find love and acceptance. While some of the chapters were not in keeping with my value system, I cannot discount the fact that they are truly a part of our society as a whole – and if a major theme of the book is to show us that we are all, at the core, the same: we all need to be loved and in turn to love others – then the book succeeds. The author's writing style is straight-forward, but with some very eloquent descriptions, as well as deep insights into the human condition. For those who are easily offended by the inclusiveness of certain societal cultures, then this book is probably not one that you would enjoy. If, however, you enjoy reading as a way to open your eyes to ALL of humanity, then I think you will find this book will do that and perhaps more.

Because Christopher Barzak was kind of enough to share this novel with me, I would like the pay forward this gesture and offer the novel as a give away. Now, this is the first time I have ever held a give-away in the blogosphere, so I ask for your patience and assistance. The give away will run through April 15 (happy tax day) - and to keep the rules fairly simple for yours truly, I will give one entry if you leave a comment here; and an additional two entries if you become a follower and/or have been a follower of my blog. Hopefully I will learn to navigate and use the random selection site between now and then.


  1. Thanks for the review. This book doesn't seem to be my kind of reading but I really like your new layout, I see you got the three columns you wanted. Isn't it so much better with three?

  2. Hi Molly, your review is so well stated and thorough. I don't think I would want to read about suicide in young people. No need to enter me in the contest, but I just wanted to reply to your comment. It would be so great if you did the cozy challenge. They are easy reads and you only need to sign up for 6. You don't even have to make a list but you do need to sign up today. Her web site has a Mr. linky you can fill out. Write your post that you are joining the challenge and send her the link to your post. No problem. Cozies are like palate cleansers between meals. You just need a little brain candy now and then. I'm looking forward to having you join. Kaye

  3. Your review is great, as usual. Don't enter me. I read another book that was basically short stories connected by a thin thread and I didn't really enjoy it.

  4. Nice review--very thorough. I was one of the winners of this book, as well, so no need to enter me. I added a link to your review on mine.

  5. Thanks for the great review. I have never heard of the author but the book sounds just solid. Sounds surreal and the setting in Japan is intriguing.

  6. i am always drawn to less-than-traditional stories...and this one sounds like it fits the bill. i liked your review--honest with good details. i'd give this book a read. thanks!

  7. I just picked this up from the library after Becky's review- nice to see someone else enjoyed it, too!


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