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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Kazumi Yumoto
Age Range: 12+
Twelve-year-old Kiyama, the narrator and his two friends, Kawabe and Yamashita have a mutual fascination with death triggered by the funeral of Yamashita’s grandmother. For them, death is the stuff of nightmare and ghosts, a fear of the unknown.
All three boys live in a small Japanese town where they have to deal with unhappy parents (Kiyama's mother drinks; Kawabe's is unmarried) and the pressure of exams, and cram school.
They decide to spy on an old man who lives alone so that they can see what happens when he dies. At first, the old man is angry, but things begin to develop in an unexpected manner as the boys attention revitalizes. As they are drawn into his life they learn a lot about life, tolerance and the dignity of getting old. When the inevitable happens, there's no horror--only heartfelt grief and loving memories that give them strength to go on.
Yumoto approaches the frightening and fascinating ‘event’ of death in a vital and uninhibited way. What does a dead body look like? How many times have we taken breath? What happens afterwards? The characters are subtly drawn and the novel excludes nothing which touches on the horrible without dramatising it including such issues as Kiyama’s mother’s alcoholicism or the troubling war memories of the old man.
Cathy Hirano’s excellent translation is both lyrical and casual. The Friends received the Boston Globe-Horn Award in1997 and was nominated for the German Juvenile’s Literature Prize in 1996. It was also made into a film by Shinji Somai in 1996.