Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan


Jill's take on Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

Every bookstore we went to in Singapore seemed to have a gazillion copies of Rainbirds for sale. We kept picking it up and then, for some reason, putting it back down. Books are incredibly expensive in Singapore and we had a hard time justifying the expense. However, when we say stacks and stacks of them at Littered With Books, we knew we had to buy it.

Rainbirds is the debut novel for Goenawan and is set in Japan. Albeit a fictional town outside of Tokyo. The story follows a brother trying to come to closure with the murder of his sister. Ren travels to this small town outside Tokyo to finalize the details of his sister Keiko’s death, but ends up sort of assuming her life instead.

It’s this seamless taking over of Keiko’s life that is super creepy to me. One of his sister’s former colleagues, a man nicknamed Honda, helps Ren finalize the details of Keiko’s funeral and clearing out her apartment. He seems to be too ready to help. It feels weird to me this eagerness and you soon find out that there is more to Honda and Keiko’s story than he original tells Ren.

Every relationship seems this way in Rainbirds. As Ren moves through his sister’s life, first by taking over her teaching job at a cram school, then by living in the same room as Keiko did, you start to see tales unfold of Ren’s life and those around him. Each person he encounters provides him with a little piece of the story and some with stories that seem quite tangential to the main plot.

It’s a really engaging read and while the language is simple, the images that Goenawan draws are lasting. Her characters are rich and the plot pace carries the reader along nicely. I took a while to really get into the novel, but once I did, I was engrossed. I wanted to know how it ended and wanted to keep up with the constant discoveries Ren was making. I thoroughly enjoyed Rainbirds and definitely think it was worth the money.


Zac's take on Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

I loved this book. It’s a little strange and more than a little captivating.

The descriptions of Japan and the customs of the Japanese are spot on. I found myself wondering if I would have gotten as much out of simple references to convenience stores and types of food if we haven’t already been to Japan (twice!).

But beyond the beautiful writing is a well crafted plot filled with longing and sorrow.

There are a few things that I squabble about, like the ease with which the main character makes a huge life decision that just seemed like an unlikely position to be put in anyway. That part didn’t seem very realistic to me. Maybe it’s normal for a job opening to be offered to the sibling of the person who just left, never mind the reasons why she left. Maybe. But I overlooked that nagging bit and really enjoyed Rainbirds.