A telephone booth in a garden, a disconnected phone on which you could talk to your lost loved ones. Could something like that really console people?
It seems hard to imagine that a phonebooth with no working phone would attract thousands of people every year, people on a pilgrimage to seek what they have lost. To speak to those who have gone before them. It was established in the garden of Bell Gardia, at the foot of Kujira-yama, just next to the city of Otsuchi, which is one of the places most severely struck by the tsunami of March 11, 2011.
Laura Imai Messina has given us a beautiful story of Yui, who lost her mother and daughter in the tsunami, and Takeshi, whose wife died from cancer. Takeshi’s young daughter, Hana, has been mute from grief. The three of them form a bond, though, despite the losses that they have endured in each of their families. Despite the confusion and pain that they have suffered.
What I loved most about this novel, which could have easily slid into despair and sorrow, was its hope. I firmly believe that we are called to joy, and not to abandon hope, in the most grievous of situations. If we do not look for it, surely we are lost. So it was that I found myself recording Messina’s thoughts as I read, which I list for you here:
“And when happiness is a thing, anything that threatens its safety is the enemy. Even if it’s something impalpable like the wind, or the rain pouring down from above.”
“We need to possess joy in abundance before we can bestow it upon somebody else.”
“Perhaps pain is what gives our lives depth, she pondered…”
”…when people disappear from our everyday lives, it doesn’t mean that they vanish completely.”
“Yet, when it came to choosing between fear and trust, Akiko always opted for the latter…Being afraid of life and people only makes you weaker.”
”It was an act of pure faith to pick up the receiver, dial a number, to be answered by a wall of silence and speak anyway. Faith was the key to it all.”
”Grief, Yui had once told him, is something you ingest every day, like a sandwich cut into small pieces, gently chewed and then calmly swallowed. Digestion was slow. And so, Takeshi thought, joy must work the same way.”
This is a beautiful novel, fitting for all of us. For even if we have not suffered the pain of losing loved ones in the tsunami, we surely bear pain of another kind. I like to find ways to solve it in the books that I read, and I have found some of the most gentle, and comforting, strategies within the pages of The Phonebooth At the Edge of The World.
The publisher has given me permission to give a copy away (U.S. only, please). If you would like to be considered for the give-away, please let me know in a comment below.