Cover Image: Mina's Matchbox

Mina's Matchbox

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Member Reviews

This book was a real balm for the soul - gentle, engaging and interesting. A story of an unusual family in unusual times. I really loved it.

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I was expecting a story but it is more like a collection of anecdotes between two cousins, a coming-of-age one. It is very slow with no plot so it missed out a bit for me.

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Somewhere between a gothic novel and a coming of age tale, this is a pleasingly offbeat family story. It feels more personal and introspective than Ogawa’s other books, without being slighter. The period setting is evoked superbly and the whole thing is profoundly atmospheric.

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Yoko Ogawa is a rare talent indeed. Her innate ability cross genre lines and write from a place of pure passion is remarkable. No matter where she sets the roots for stories you know they’ll be full of heart.

Mina’s Matchbox is no different, it follows the story of young women finding their place in the world, their budding obsessions which as teens overwhelm their personalities and the desperate yearning of young love.

This is a brilliantly grounded story that highlights the importance of family, the stability of shared culture and the vital space we need to grow in our formative years.

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#yokoogawa is an author I love, #thehousekeeperandtheprofessor is a book that cemented my love of #japanesefiction #japaneseliterature and remains a favourite. #memorypolice underwhelmed me but other short story collections have been good.

Thank you #netgalley for this #arc of #minasmatchbox, firstly both covers are beautiful and are very fitting. I loved the setting, they period and the characters. Ogawa writes in such an easy way that means you start to read and two minutes later you have read 10 pages!

I have realised over time what I like to read, with a lot of #translatedjapaneseliterature, it's character focused rather than plot driven. I found this book was more of a chronology of a family, their relationships and friendships which dad lovely but it lacked character development aside from getting older that is. I loved the insight into Mina's matchboxes which I won't say anymore about but it was an interesting idea.

Overall this fell a bit flat for me but I do enjoy Ogawa's writing and any story with a hippo is worth a read 😂😂😂

#honnomushi100 #reading #japanesefiction #translatedfiction #translatedjapaneseliterature #booksfromjapan #booklover #bookstagram #translatedgems #books2024 #newbooks2024

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"If you wanted to describe Mina in a few words, you might say she was an asthmatic girl who loved books and rode a pygmy hippopotamus."

This coming-of-age tale, the story of a friendship between two girls, and the eccentric household that Mina lives in, set in 1970s Japan, is beautifully drawn with simple little details. It is a fine novel, and though it doesn't do anything new with the genre, it is a well written, thoroughly engaging and at times quite moving. It captures that moment of innocence giving over to experience very well.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for the ARC.

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Tomoko stays with her aunt and uncle for a year. They're fairly rich and live in a big house with the final remaining animal from a long-gone zoo: Pochiko the pygmy hippopotamus. Tomoko makes friends with Mina, a sickly girl with some interesting hobbies.

Ogawa's style as a writer is very understated but super effective. Lightly descriptive, it gives the idea of beauty and grandeur but lets the reader fill in the blanks. Her characters are believable and well fleshed-out. Really liked the little stories within a story in this one. Loved Mina, Pochiko, and the narrator. Loved the description of young teenage crushes. Liked that the whole thing was very slice of life, with no huge tragedy or excitement.

Was not as interested in the sections about volleyball. Some of the more historical touch-points didn't feel like they added much to the story.

Would recommend!

Anything else:
I found Yogo Ogawa's other (most famous?) book The Memory Police quite frustrating, and wasn't sure I'd read more by her, but I'm glad I did. The themes and genre of this book seemed to set up less, and allowed Ogawa to really show off her strengths. If you didn't get on with The Memory Police, try this one!

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After the death of her father, twelve-year-old Tomoko is sent to live for an idyllic year near to the sea and the mountains with her mother's sister's family in their beautiful home. Yoko Ogawa captures a vanished sensory, golden, nostalgic place from childhood in 1970s Japan. The story telling is slow-paced, exquisitely detailed and centres on the experience of living in this cloistered, domestic realm full of food, imagination and hopefulness. There is the beloved pooing pygmy hippo the family keeps as a pet and Tomoko finds her relatives equally exotic and beguiling. She finds her often absent Uncle dazzling and charming, yet notes that her Aunt quietly smokes heavily and drinks whisky by herself. But the most intense relationship is between Tomoko and her fragile, asthmatic cousin Mina who draws her into an intoxicating world full of secret crushes and elaborate storytelling.

Rich with the magic and mystery of youth, Mina’s Matchbox is an evocation of innocence on the brink of understanding the complexity of adult relationships.

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This was a story about a girl, Tomoko, who was sent to live with her Aunt for a year while her mother studied. Tomoko developed a sweet friendship with her cousin, Mina, and the rest of the household which consisted of Mina's Grandmother, the housekeeper and the gardener. As well as people, there was a resident pygmy hippo, Pochiko, who had been a gift for the Uncle's 10th birthday.

We learn about Mina and her ill health, we read about the close friendships in the house, of her Aunt's anxious personality, the Uncle and his disappearances, a brief visit from the brother, and, of course, the story of Mina's matchboxes.

Unfortunately I found this book too slow. There wasn't much of a plot, other than the year Tomoko spent with the family, but the ending was quite good. If the rest of the book had been written like this it would have made for much more pleasurable reading.

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when tomoko is sent away trom her mother to live with her uncle what adventure will she get up too.

this book felt like a anthology of childhood memories, rather than having one stable plot. it was beautifully written and anyone with a keen interest in japan would enjoy this.

the family relationships between everyone are truly beautiful and powerfully written. i love how tomoko reflects on her childhood memories with mina. they are so well-portrayed throughout the entire book.

the book feels like a slice of life anime, if those sorts of things aren’t what you are into you probably wouldn’t enjoy this book

overall, this book was tomoko reflecting on her childhood memories with her cousin mina, as they develop a beautiful friendship.

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A quiet and simple but really beautiful story of a girl who goes to stay with her cousin’s family for a while - their relationships, her experiences, it’s just a microcosm or snapshot of growing up and childhood

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A story of a young teen going off for the summer to live with her unusual cousin and their family.

This is a really easy to read slice-of-life Japanese novel, over the course of a year it shows how a well to do family live in 1070s Japan. It's a beautiful coming of age story. I'd recommend it to any lovers of translated fiction!

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Winner of the 2006 Tanizaki prize, Yōko Ogawa’s exquisitely-drawn exploration of impermanence deals with familiar themes - from the transient nature of existence to the loss of childhood innocence - but manages to render them fresh and vivid. The scenario at the centre of Ogawa’s variation on a coming-of-age novel is equally familiar: the outsider suddenly plunged into an entirely alien environment. Her novel’s narrated by Tomoko who’s recalling incidents from her childhood over 30 years earlier; reassuring recollections abruptly intermingled with more traumatic ones starting with the death of her father in 1966 - the first in a series of deaths that surface throughout Ogawa’s novel. Broader reflections on mortality and the fleeting nature of all things are underlined by the structure of Ogawa’s narrative which, like many Japanese stories, is organised by the passing of the seasons. All of this might give the impression this is a deeply serious, sombre piece – at times it is – but it can also be charming and funny as well as sinister and slightly surreal, laced with bursts of startling imagery.

The core of the novel opens in spring, time of new beginnings, it’s March 1972 and 12-year-old Tomoko is leaving her home in Okayama – where Ogawa grew up. Tomoko’s going to spend a year with her aunt’s family in Ashiya while her mother attempts to improve her employment prospects by studying in Tokyo. Tomoko’s aunt’s the family member who attracts the most gossip, married to the wealthy head of a beverage company, her half-German husband is considered a foreigner. But when Tomoko arrives in Ashiya she feels as if she’s entered an enchanted space. Her aunt and uncle live in a grand, Western-style mansion along with her younger cousin Mina, Mina’s German grandmother Rosa, cook Yoneda-san and gardener Kobayashi-san. Kobayashi-san has an unusual responsibility, he tends to the family pet a pygmy hippo known as Pochiko the last survivor of a zoo closed since WW2. Pochiko’s a key figure here, member of a species threatened with extinction, remnant of the past - his moods, his melancholy, his isolation mirror aspects of the family’s situation. Pochiko’s also been trained to carry fragile Mina to school and back, a task that confirms her family’s underlying eccentricity.

At first Tomoko feels as if she's a princess in a fairy tale. Outside Japan’s going through a particularly turbulent phase but the house seems part of some other, lost world. But as time passes Tomoko notices her handsome, hospitable uncle’s hardly ever around and the women rarely go out. Locked away in the house they read voraciously, inhabiting separate fictional realms. Each of them harbours secrets from Mina’s horde of vintage matchboxes and the unsettling stories she weaves around them to the uncle’s disappearances and what happened to Rosa’s sister left behind in Germany. Only Tomoko has any grounding in reality. But there are moments when the outside breaks through: the Munich Olympics and “Black September” connect Mina and Tomoko to an imagined community of TV viewers; news of Kawabata’s suicide plunges the household into mourning leading to a strange encounter with a librarian who somewhat perversely persuades Tomoko to borrow The House of the Sleeping Beauties.

As a writer Ogawa values visual images and a sense of place over plot. Ogawa’s chosen setting of Ashiya builds on personal knowledge of the area: the house’s based on a former local landmark; minor characters on people she knows there; Mina travelling on Pochiko’s back links to local stories about a private zoo and a boy who went to school by donkey. But it also allows Ogawa to play on associations conjured by Ashiya and its surrounds: its connections to a particular generation of bourgeois Japanese families and Hanshinkan modernism, and its fame as home to writer Jun'ichirō Tanizaki. Ashiya features in Tanizaki’s best-known work The Makioka Sisters. There are echoes of Tanizaki’s novel in Ogawa’s particularly his interest in declining cultures and the delicate interplay between individuals and wider historical events. But Tanizaki’s not the only influence on display here: Kawabata’s Snow Country, Anne Frank, Katherine Mansfield’s portraits of family life, and even Anne of Green Gables all have a part to play. Like a number of Japanese novels this started out in serial form so it’s fairly episodic and I won't claim Ogawa’s narrative doesn't have weaker moments - elements of Ogawa’s symbolism were a little too obvious and I wasn’t totally comfortable with her use of animals. But even so I was totally swept away by it. Translated by Stephen Snyder.

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