The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida

Image of The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida
Author(s): 
Release Date: 
March 10, 2020
Publisher/Imprint: 
Soho Press
Pages: 
288
Reviewed by: 

The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida is a tremendous examination of sadness. It also addresses the loneliness of difference, both the visible and invisible. Finally, it is a book with heart about the mysteries of the heart.”  

Miwako Sumida is an unusual girl. She wears large-framed eyeglasses that once belonged to her grandfather. She (anonymously) writes a salacious zine that is read by everybody in her high school. She is loved by Ryusei Yanagi, one of the best looking boys in the entire school, and yet she refuses to date him. Most difficult of all, Miwako commits suicide without rhyme or reason.

The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida is a complex, interpersonal mystery from the critically acclaimed author Clarissa Goenawan. The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida breaks the curse of the “sophomore slump,” as Goenawan’s second novel is both emotionally deep and narratively interesting.

Following Miwako’s suicide, Ryusei, his sister Fumi, and friend Chie try to piece together the mystery of Miwako’s life. For Ryusei it is a quest built on love. He loved Miwako like no other, and his love never wavered even after Miwako turned him down and ultimately removed herself from his life. For Chie it is about returning the favor, as Miwako once shared a secret intimacy with her, both on the printed page and in real life. For Fumi, Miwako’s tragic life is part of her “curse,” i.e. Fumi, born the son of a priest, has the ability to interact with spirits.

The story is told from the perspective of everyone involved except for Miwako. This is the point, as the story is about how Miwako was viewed by the people who loved her. These also are the same people whom she hurt with her suicide.

Each one of the characters in this novel are flawed: Ryusei is obsessed with Miwako and protecting his sister at costs; Fumi is an artist, secretly trans, and a jaundiced adult who spends her nights working as a hostess at a sleazy bar; Miwako is the most flawed of all, as she keeps two secrets from Ryusei and everyone else until she returns from the grave in the form of a ghost (that only Fumi can see and interact with).

The supernatural elements in this book may be hard to swallow for those expecting a standard literary mystery. Yes, the ghosts in here are real. Also, labeling this book as a “mystery” may be slightly incorrect. There are crimes in it to be sure, but the chief mystery surrounds not a murder but the reason why the bright and beautiful Miwako hung herself in a small village far from Tokyo. The answer to this riddle is not divulged until the last 20 pages. Patience is rewarded, as it is a shocking revelation to be sure.

The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida is a tremendous examination of sadness. It also addresses the loneliness of difference, both the visible and invisible. Finally, it is a book with heart about the mysteries of the heart.