This disarming workplace novel (222 pages) was published in June of 2017 by Amazon Crossing. The book takes you to Japan. Melissa read The Great Passage and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
This is a sweet and gently told story set in Japan that speaks lovingly of the power of words and the emotions contained in the particular arrangement of a few letters.
Not much happens — a group of people toils for more than a decade on a new 2900-page (!) dictionary called The Great Passage — but everything happens: people fall in love, live and die, question themselves, make friends, break up, succeed, and fail.
Our hero is Mitsuya Majime, a young book collector with a background in linguistics and a personality wholly unlike his mentor Kohei. Majime devotes himself to parsing the true meaning of words for the epic dictionary, including left, right, man, woman, and the most important of all — love.
Just when it seems like it might get too precious — almost everyone is quite earnest and well-intentioned — there’s a touch of sarcastic humor that transforms the characters on the page into real, contradictory, gloriously messy humans.
The action gets sparky when Kaguya, the daughter of Majime’s landlord, shows up. She’s a chef, and the scenes at her restaurant are packed with food descriptions that add a richness to the story without drawing undue attention to themselves. She’s also the recipient of one of the most awkward love letters ever written in any language.
The characters lovingly examine words, turning them over in their hands like faceted gemstones and discussing their definitions to get to the root of meaning. Who knew the minutiae of the development of a dictionary could be so compelling? The specifics and affection for shades of meaning in this text will entice you to fall in love with the poetry of the Japanese language — give you a renewed appreciation for the words you speak every day.
Shout out to the lyrical, sparkling translation by Juliet Winters Carpenter.
‘A dictionary is a ship that crosses the sea of words,’ said Araki, with a sense that he was laying bare his innermost soul. ‘People travel on it and gather the small points of light floating on the dark surface of the waves. They do this in order to tell someone their thoughts accurately, using the best possible words. Without dictionaries, all any of us could do is linger before the vastness of the deep.’ — Shion Miura
Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.
This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.
We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.
This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.
Content on this site is © 2022 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.