27th August 2019

Review: The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann (Profile Books)

Gilbert Silvester, lecturer and researcher of beard fashions, is in shock: Last night he dreamed that his wife was being unfaithful to him, and so he decides to leave her. He boards the next flight and travels to Japan in order to seek clarity. Once there, he discovers the texts of classic poet Basho and, consequently, only has one goal: Like the traveling monks of old, he wants to witness the moon over the mysterious pine islands. His intention is to get lost in nature and to leave behind his inner turmoil. However, before his journey even begins, he meets the suicidal student Yosa who is also on a journey but with the aim to find the perfect spot for taking his own life.

Poschmann's novel is weird - that's a fact. Some of the described scenes seem so far-fetched that they appear ridiculous. At the same time, the book transports a certain ease (which is unusual, considering the subject matter). Her characters are manic but likeable, if not fully convincing. It is clear that this book is essentially one big exagerration but it is dealing with life-disturbing questions. So what if life is ultimately nothing but a dream?

This is a rather short novel which I read in one single sitting. It has depth, is also funny at times and some of the landscape descriptions are memorably vivid and fabulous, such as that of the suicide forest at the bottom of Fuji mountain. However, some philosophical ponderings were simply too lengthy and Poschmann's view on Japanese culture tends to be somewhat stereotypical.

I read The Pine Islands in the original German version (Die Kieferninseln), so I can't say much about the quality of the translation. If you are looking for a fast read with some philosophical depth, endearingly strange characters and a sort of Kafkaesque voice, this might be the book for you. If you are not into this kind of story, then you should leave it.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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