Synopsis: (as told by the back of the book)
Ren Ishida is nearly finished with graduate school when he receives news of his sister Keiko’s sudden death. She was viciously stabbed one rainy night on her way home, and there are no leads. Ren heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister’s affairs, still failing to understand why she chose to abandon the family and Tokyo for this desolate town years ago.
But Ren soon finds himself picking up where Keiko left off, accepting both her teaching position at a local cram school and the bizarre arrangement of free lodging at a wealthy politician’s mansion in exchange for reading to the man’s catatonic wife.
As he comes to know the figures in Akakawa, from the enigmatic politician to his fellow teachers and a rebellious, alluring student named Rio, Ren delves into his shared childhood with Keiko and what followed, trying to piece together what happened the night of her death. Haunted in his dreams by a young girl who is desperately trying to tell him something, Ren struggles to find solace in the void his sister has left behind.
I thoroughly enjoyed Rainbirds. This is a well-paced read; the mystery keeps you turning the pages but the exploration in hindsight of Ren’s relationship with his sister grounds it in something more important. It’s not just about a murder – it’s about grief, dependence, and learning to move on.
As I was reading, I was trying to remember if this is the first book I’ve read set in Japan. I came to the conclusion that besides The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami, which is set more in a fantastical space than any specific country, it is. I enjoyed reading a book set this fictional Japanese town and seeing the ways in which Japanese culture was infused into the story.
If I had a critique of this book, it would be that it relies a lot on dream sequences. While they can be a powerful tool in novels, I’m wary of books that use them as a cop out. This book is walking a fine line in that respect.
Aside from that, this is simply a well-crafted book. I won’t go as far as to say it’s going to be a favorite of 2018 for me, but it’s simultaneously a little scary, a little sad, and a little touching. It’s a great mystery for people who tend to eschew thrillers in favor of literary fiction.
Interested in this book? I got mine through Book of the Month Club! I’ve been a member for over a year now and I love it. Sign up today with this link and get a free book when you sign up (and I’ll get one for referring you)!