June 2024
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Review: The Love We Share Without Knowing, Christopher Barzak

From the back cover:

On a train filled with quietly sleeping passengers, a young man’s life is forever altered when he is miraculously seen by a blind man.  In a quiet town, an American teacher who has lost her Japanese lover to death begins to lose her own self.  On a remote road amid fallow rice fields, four young friends carefully take their own lives – and in that moment they become almost as one.  In a small village, a disaffected American teenager discovers compassion after a strange encounter with an enigmatic red fox, and in Tokyo, a girl named Love learned the deepest lesson about its true meaning from a coma patient lost in dreams of an affair gone wrong.

From the neon colors of Tokyo, with its game centers and karaoke bars, to the bamboo groves and hidden shrines of the countryside, these souls and others mingle, revealing a profound tale of connection – uncovering the love we share without knowing.

Wow.  This is exactly the book I was looking for when I picked it up.  This really is an unbelievably beautiful tale of the connections between people and how all of our stories intertwine in the most meaningful of ways, while invoking Japanese culture with which I was unfamiliar but which suits these quiet stories perfectly.  It’s almost like an interconnected book of short stories in which each builds upon the next, returning to some characters and not others.  Each strand of the novel shows us a particular aspect of love and when woven together, form a stunning tapestry and a beautiful book.

At first, I was perplexed when between chapters, the book switched narrators and from 1st to 3rd person.  In the next chapter, it switched again.  So it took me a little while to realize how this book was structured, and some chapters do have an adjustment period of their own.  Often the connections between characters aren’t explicit and are slowly revealed through clues, which I liked a lot; a chapter halfway through the book will mention characters from the first, for example.

This book also contains a little bit of magical realism.  Deceased appear as ghosts to those whom they loved.  There are Japanese curses and even what seems to be a shape-shifting fox.  All of it fits, though, and I found made the novel even richer with culture than it would have been otherwise.

Is this a sad novel, given that a few of the stories focus on suicide and many on death?  In some ways, yes.  It’s even deeper than that, though, as it shows us how many people from all different walks of life can feel the exact same thing without realizing it.  That’s where the title comes in; all these people share love without knowing.  I can’t say it made me sad, though.  It made me thoughtful and it astonished me with its power.

I loved this book.  I’m so grateful to author Christopher Barzak for sending me this copy and I sincerely hope that he gains a wider audience.  This may be my favorite book so far this year.  It’s one of those quietly stunning books that I fall in love with every single time.  As a result, I would recommend it to everyone.

Buy The Love We Share Without Knowing on Amazon.


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