I am back, with my thoughts on Temple Alley Summer by Kashiwaba Sachiko! The book is translated by Avery Fischer Udagawa, with illustrations by Satake Miho, and published by Yonder, an imprint of Restless Books.
I found it an easy read and the premise was interesting and even thrilling, especially in the early chapters, before the narrator (and readers) know what exactly is going on.
Kazu sees a girl leaving his family’s home early one morning. She is wearing a white kimono, much like how his late grandfather was dressed for his burial! Kazu is convinced he’s seen a ghost and even more so when he has to research old place names at school and learns that his own street was once called Kimyō Temple Alley — Kimyō meaning ‘return to life’.
The more Kazu thinks about it, the more he’s convinced that his home was once a temple called Kimyō and, given that creepy name, the girl in white must surely be a ghost.
Soon, Kazu sees other things that confirm his suspicions, but he’s still unsure about the details. To me, Kazu’s not knowing makes things more exciting and spooky because the reader is free to speculate and imagine the worst. Then Kazu has a breakthrough in his research and that’s when I feel the story gets somewhat bogged down.
The head of Kazu’s family is his Uncle Junichi who usually lives with them, but is spending that summer in China assisting in an archaeological dig. Kazu realises that this uncle may have some answers for him as, being the official head of the family, he would be the one to whom Kazu’s grandfather would have passed on important family business (and secrets). Kazu’s guess is right and what follows is an unfortunate info dump via an email from Uncle Junichi.
I didn’t find how forthcoming he is convincing at all and it made the emails seem like a too-easy, too-quick way for the author to offer information to Kazu and the reader.
Other revelations in the book are presented in a much more convincing manner. I also liked the short story within the story, complete with different paper, typeface and illustrations. I actually prefer the style of illustrations that accompany the short story to the ones for the main story. I feel the main story illustrations don’t capture the feel and mood of the book. The black cat, Kikoro, is nicely done, but everything else feels too heavy and stark on the page. A black and white version of the cover image, with finer, lighter lines, would have worked better, in my opinion.
The Uncle Junichi info dump and one unexplained inconsistency are the two glaring faults of Temple Alley Summer, but otherwise, I really enjoyed this book, especially Kashibawa’s depiction of her characters. Every one of these characters makes a lasting impression. They are all memorable and engaging, even if they appear just once in the book, and I could picture them all clearly.
By the way, Kashibawa is the author of The Marvelous Village Veiled in Mist, the book that inspired and influenced Miyazaki Hayao’s Spirited Away film. I’m currently making my way slowly through a Google translated version (from the Italian translation), but the official English translation is available on Amazon.jp (one copy left!) for RM118! As far as I can tell, I like Spirited Away better, and Temple Alley Summer too.