If you love books (and I think you do!) then you definitely love words. The Great Passage (trans. Juliet Winters Carpenter) is a perfect novel for such people, and about such people – those who love words above all else.
It is a story about a group of editors and scientists who have devoted their professional lives to building a “book about words” – a dictionary of the Japanese language. It is a large-scale undertaking and not a very spectacular one. Collecting a set of words, writing it down on small pieces of paper, specifying the strictest, but still complete definition. Checking, checking and yet again checking. The whole process takes years, and during this time life goes on as normal – employees come and leave, get promoted, get married, get sick. And when the dictionary manages to be printed and released into the world after all these years, they have to start collecting materials for the next edition almost immediately. Because the language – like the sea – never stands still.
Shion Miura received the Japan Booksellers’ Award (Hon’ya Taishō) for her novel – the same one that years earlier Yōko Ogawa received for The Housekeeper and the Professor. There is something similar in these two books – calmness, intimacy, and the beauty we learn to notice together with the characters of the book.
The book is also available in English.