The Thorn Puller
"a brilliantly poetic translation . . . explored with biting humor and sharp wit."
Jeffrey Angles offers a brilliantly poetic translation to this important work by Hiromi Ito, a prominent poet and novelist, appearing in English for the first time. His introduction describes well the unique nature of the book:
"the text is a generic chimera; readers will find many places in the narrative, sometimes even mid-sentence, where she shifts from a prose-like style of writing into lineated verse, and then back again. . . . the plot too blurs the lines between fiction and non-fiction, between realism and surrealism."
What follows is a series of stories, all windows into the life of a woman, also named Ito, as she deals with aging parents, a sick husband, and daughters who desperately need attention. The themes are both aging and care-giving, each explored with biting humor and sharp wit. Ito describes taking her mother to various clinics as they search for a diagnosis and care:
"Dozens of people with swollen legs, mostly around Mom's age, were waiting in the long hospital corridors. They were so old and motionless, it was like they were playing dead. They waited with such quiet, single-minded devotion that I wondered if they had forgotten who they were and what they were waiting for."
And here's what she writes about her husband, after describing his various health issues:
"So, let me say a few words about husbands . . .
They look like men, but kneaded and plucked.
They swell up like a balloon.
They look thick, big, and sturdy.
Like a good hard squeeze would make them hard.
Like they might let out a cry of passion.
Everyone says they're great, but I know better."
This theme of disappointment in married life runs throughout the book:
"Over the decade we'd spent together, I'd given up on my husband more times than I could count, thinking there was no way he could understand me."
The husband, it should be said, is American, and his strangeness was part of the initial appeal while becoming one of the many thorns that fester and need to be pulled:
"He didn't understand my language, the things I was writing, the things I was thinking, or even the things I was trying to do. He didn't understand the sights I see, the scents I smell. He didn't understand the things I wanted to eat or even the things I didn't want to eat."
The issues with the husband and her parents mount throughout the book, all explored in her writing. Problems with the daughters are even more painful, truly hard for the narrator to bear. But through her writing, through Ito's careful looking and sharp humor, her troubles are both understood and eased:
"Mom's suffering, Dad's suffering, my husband's suffering.
Loneliness, anxiety, frustration.
Various forms of suffering rain down on me, but my suffering is no longer really suffering. When I use the suffering that rains down on me as material for writing, I put it under a microscope and observe, and then I find myself forgetting that suffering causes pain.
So what's really happening? Is Jizo not answering my prayers and pulling out my thorns?"
This is not an easy book, full of various woes, but one that rewards careful reading, just as the author's writing allows her to see past the pain in her family to what remains, what holds it—and her—together.