Kazumi Yumoto was born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1959 and got into literature via music. She studied composition at Tokyo College of music and during this time wrote opera libretti and plays for radio and television. Her first novel “Natsu no niwa” (Engl. “The Friends”, 1996) appeared in 1992 to international acclaim. In a direct an warmhearted style it tells the story of three adolescents in contemporary Japan who want to learn more about death and decide to spy on an old man whom they assume will die soon, but things develop in an unexpected manner. A fragile friendship grows between Kiyama, Yamashita and Kawabe, in which they learn a lot about life, tolerance and the dignity of getting old. Yumoto approaches the frightening and fascinating ‘event’ of death in a vital and uninhibited way. What does a dead body look like? How many times have we taken breath? What happens afterwards? The book is narrated in a clear and quiet fashion. Other issues, such as the mother’s alcoholicism or the troubling war memories of the old man, are also discreetly incorporated. In this way, a children’s novel is built up which excludes nothing, which touches on the horrible without dramatising it, which treats a delicate issue lightly but never frivolously (Neue Züricher) and which quietly brings a strange culture closer. “Natsu no niwa” received the Boston Globe-Horn Award (1997) and was nominated for the German Juvenile’s Literature Prize (1996); it was made into a film by Shinji Somai (1996).
Again and again Yumoto takes up the difficult experiences of growing up and the conflicts that for children can be associated with it. In doing so she never avoids serious questions such as illness, death, suicide and religion, as in the book for young adults, “Popura no aki” (1997; Engl. “The Letters”, 2002), her third novel that was translated into German. Chiaki, a young woman, remembers how she moved into the “Poplar-House” with her mother when she was six years old. There the eccentric yet loveable landlady Mrs Yanagi helped her to fight her anxieties – which above all had to do with the to her incomprehensible fact of her father’s death. When the old lady tells her that she will convey letters to the dead when dying, Chiaki starts writing letters to her father dealing with her pain and her questions. Very often in Yumoto’s novels old people play a fundamental role. “I believe that there is a kind of relationship with children that is only feasible for adults who at the same time are not the parents, and that such a relationship can strongly influence a child’s course in a certain part of its life.” Kazumi Yumoto lives in Tokyo.
© international literature festival berlin