Set in an imagined town outside Tokyo, Clarissa Goenawan’s dark, spellbinding literary debut follows a young man’s path to self-discovery in the wake of his sister’s murder.
Ren Ishida has nearly completed his graduate degree at Keio University when he receives news of his sister’s violent death. Keiko was stabbed one rainy night on her way home, and there are no leads. Ren heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister’s affairs, failing to understand why she chose to turn her back on the family and Tokyo for this desolate place years ago.
But then Ren is offered Keiko’s newly vacant teaching position at a prestigious local cram school and her bizarre former arrangement of free lodging at a wealthy politician’s mansion in exchange for reading to the man’s ailing wife. He accepts both, abandoning Tokyo and his crumbling relationship there in order to better understand his sister’s life and what took place the night of her death.
As Ren comes to know the eccentric local figures, from the enigmatic politician who’s boarding him to his fellow teachers and a rebellious, captivating young female student, he delves into his shared childhood with Keiko and what followed. Haunted in his dreams by a young girl who is desperately trying to tell him something, Ren realizes that Keiko Ishida kept many secrets, even from him.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Clarissa Goenawan’s debut novel is not quite a mystery and not quite a ghost story, yet manages to be both. Spare, delicate, and evocative, this atmospheric tale intertwines the past and present as protagonist Ren Ishida dives into the circumstances of his older sister’s murder in a small Japanese town where nothing much happens. Rainbirds quietly takes you to places you’d never expect—and to a conclusion you’d never guess.
Goenawan's well-paced mystery follows ruminative Japanese graduate student Ren Ishida as he returns to the town where his sister was murdered. When Keiko Ishida was found dead in the small town Akakawa, she had sustained stab wounds, had tie marks on her wrists, and was lying alongside a bloody kitchen knife but nothing was missing from her purse and there's no known motive. She was also carrying a pack of birth control pills, though she'd been tight-lipped about her romantic life and never mentioned a boyfriend. Ren plans to stay just long enough to collect his sister's belongings, but is drawn into the town's morass when he temporarily takes over his sister's old teaching post at a cram school and agrees to fill her room in a politician's graveyard-quiet mansion (where he reads Rushdie to the politician's silent wife, Ms. Katou, in exchange for lodging). As Ren becomes invested in Ms. Katou's (and other townspeople's) backstories, he's also drawn into a beguiling friendship with one of his students whom he nicknames "Seven Stars" for the brand of cigarettes she smokes which gets increasingly thorny as he realizes she may be connected to his sister's troubled past. Goenawan's debut balances a finely wrought plot with patient, measured portraits of fragile relationships, making for a spare yet inviting novel that grabs hold and doesn't let go.
Clarissa Goenawan’s, The Rainbirds, is a haunting novel wherein violence, rage, lust, jealousy, love and all the other consuming emotions are drawn in the manner of a Japanese watercolor, subtly and persuasively. Ren Ishida, Goenawan’s protagonist, is a lonely young man searching in an urn of ashes for a beloved older sister. He takes her former job, stays in her former room and meets the people she knew. This immersion allows Rea to discover his sister as he learns the mystery of her fate. The Rainbirds is a vey surreal performance.