Clarissa Goenawan

Ren Ishida has nearly completed his graduate degree at Keio University when he receives news of his sister’s violent death. Keiko was stabbed one rainy night on her way home, and there are no leads. Ren heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister’s affairs, failing to understand why she chose to turn her back on the family and Tokyo for this desolate place years ago.

But then Ren is offered Keiko’s newly vacant teaching position at a prestigious local cram school and her bizarre former arrangement of free lodging at a wealthy politician’s mansion in exchange for reading to the man’s ailing wife. He accepts both, abandoning Tokyo and his crumbling relationship there in order to better understand his sister’s life and what took place the night of her death.


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‘Indonesian-born Clarissa Goenawan’s debut novel, “Rainbirds,” is set in Japan, was written in Singapore, and was first published in the U.S. (with foreign language rights sold in 10 countries and counting) making it something of a transnational literary tour de force.

Between the disaffected young male narrator, references to pasta and jazz, and occasional weirdness — Ren promises a girl he meets in a dream to find her in real life; another girl compulsively shoplifts bubble gum — there is a consistent suggestion that the author is paying homage to Haruki Murakami, and fans of his slightly off-kilter brand of fiction will find much to enjoy here.

“Rainbirds” is a mystery, but not a nail-biter. Instead, secrets are revealed, surprises appear and tangled relationships are unraveled as the novel meanders toward its conclusion. Readers will be carried along by its creepy charm’, The Japan Times.