Things Remembered and Things Forgotten by Kyoko Nakajima is a collection of short stories, previously published in, for instance, Granta 127: Japan, where you will find the story which lent its title to the book. The stories are chosen according to a theme, which emerges throughout the collection.
The volume discusses memory, passing away, grieving, as well as the events of everyday life. The stories focus on characters who lost someone close, a place which used to be their home, or characters disconnected from their cultural identity. Many of the stories happen somewhere in between life and death, past and present. Despite this serious theme, Nakajima’s stories are not glum. Rather, they are filled with serenity, reflection and nostalgia. In “When My Wife Was a Shiitake”, a peaceful, discreet text — and one which spoke to me the most — Taihei Ishida has to face life alone after his wife passes away. Only after her death he begins to get to know her better. “The Harajuku House” is a ghost story which presents an extraordinary take on several decades in Japan’s history. The last piece, called “The Last Obon”, a family gathers in their mother’s former house — for the last time before the house is sold — to celebrate Obon. However, none of the siblings can recall any of the traditions for celebration from their youth.
Nakajima’s style is to the point and without pretense. Under the veneer of everyday life, looms a hidden, complex universe. Most characters are not surprised by the events which are out of this world — the two realities cross and coexist, feeding each other and unfolding together.