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Boston Globe: "While the plot and its tender ending are moving, it is Amélie’s amused appreciation of Japanese culture that captures and holds a reader's attention."

Date: Jan 6 2009

Amélie Nothomb concludes her defiantly original romance by describing it as "infinitely more beautiful and noble than some silly love story." And she is correct that the affair between the 21-year-old Belgian Amélie and her 20-year-old Japanese lover, Rinri, is unusual.

On her return to Japan, where she spent her first five years, Amélie supports herself by teaching French. Her only pupil, a wealthy young man dissatisfied with their business relationship, subtly expands it from attraction to affection and attachment. Amélie, an eccentric young woman with a bemused and somewhat detached view of herself, tries to resist his polite intrusions. She is a curious and careful observer of Japanese manners, courtesy, and tact, and this relationship tests her ability to translate from one culture to another and to transform close observation into appropriate action. Suspicious that Rinri is engaged in some nefarious activities when he disappears on a mysteriously extended shopping trip, she learns that he really does need two hours to choose three pieces of gingerroot. Similarly, she learns to freeze in strange positions so that Rinri can feast on her beauty, but she cannot teach herself to take him seriously as he sighs "something desperate about the fleeting nature of whiteness." She finds that she is unable to reject Rinri's marriage proposal and engagement ring, and becomes his fiancee with no intention of becoming his wife. It is more polite to run away than refuse. While the plot and its tender ending are moving, it is Amélie’s amused appreciation of Japanese culture that captures and holds a reader's attention.