Sociology 308: Sex, Death and Human Nature. I don’t know if this was offered at your university, but it was at mine. And though I never got around to taking it, the title of the class alone was provocative enough. Indeed, the fact that I can still remember the course number all these years later testifies to that. And those are the major events for our narrator, Toru, and the people in his circle. Midori talks, and obsesses, about sex constantly, coming across as a virginal teen, desperate to show how unafraid she is. But she is hit hard with the impending death of her father, who had never gone to South America. Taking Toru to the hospital with her, he gives her respite and offers to watch her father while giving her a chance to not think, to empty herself of feelings. Feeding him cucumbers, Toru quietly comforts the old man, the former soldier.

A personal note: I have not directly confronted the death of a parent, both of mine are still alive, though in their 70’s. But I have been close to one who has. A year ago, my father-in-law had a heart attack in the middle of Costco, dying within minutes. Nine months before that, my wife’s mother passed away. An only child, both times C. had to fly out to deal with the minutia of death. Both times she had to delay grief.

Toru is colloquial Japanese for to pass through* which we are seeing with our narrator, never so well illustrated as in the dinner to celebrate Nagasawa passing the Foreign Ministry exam. Dinning with Nagasawa and his girlfriend, the beautiful Hatsumi, we are put into a horrible, uncomfortable scene as Hatsumi, as polite as ever, cuts into her boyfriend’s philandering. And in a rare moment of pulling us into the present, he shows us the future, the sad life of Hatsumi.

Let’s meet back here next week, to discuss the final two chapters.

* Lange, Noss, A textbook of colloquial Japanese, pg 526.




















Staff Writer

A fourth generation Californian, befuddled.

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One thought on “Bookclub!

  1. Joining the discussion late. Great book–very poetic.

    The ever presence of death was perhaps what struck me most about the novel. As the narrator points out life comprises death but usually not through suicide. I’ve had a couple people close to me commit suicide. In one case, it came as a surprise. In the second, not so much. Both were men. The first shot himself. The second, a doctor, closed up his garage and turned on the car. Both suicides left our mutual friends shocked and numb in the aftermath. Toru’s reaction rings true.

    Both my husband and I still have our parents. Mine will be 84 this year and are in fairly good health, especially my mother. My husband’s mom is 85; his father 94. We brought them here from Chicago because they could no longer look after themselves. She’s gone completely blind, has diabetes, and a host of other health issues. We’re fortunate enough to have an aide provided through Medicare who comes in a few hours each day during the week, but we do their shopping and my husband cooks a huge pot of soup and other meals for them to eat during the week. I check in with them every other day or so to clean up after their cat and make sure they’re doing okay. In the close to two years they’ve lived here, their decline, though gradual, has been obvious and painful to watch. Old age is not for the weak, and watching people you love slowly waste away, knowing the end can’t be far off, is difficult. We’re not sure how much longer they’ll be able to stay in their apartment and they’re adamant about not wanting to end up in a nursing home. Of course, dealing with these issues on a regular basis leads you to think about what will happen to you as you get old.

    So, the one of the main themes of the book, the transience of life, strikes a particular chord for me as I spend a fair amount of time thinking about mortality these days.


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