The Short Take:
Like a haiku poem, this eloquent novel packs vast quantities of beauty and meaning into a mere 168 pages. Acclaimed in Japan 25 years ago, I’m grateful it has finally made it into English. Brilliant.
There are so many layers to explore and think about in this book, it is a true literary treasure. If you’re the type of person who enjoys existentialists works and classic European movies, this one is tailor made for you. Even if you’re not that type, this book still deserves your attention.
Of course I have no idea how Isle of Dreams read in its original Japanese, but Charles De Wolf’s translation certainly felt right: landfill dumps take on rare beauty, nature writhes with intense sensuality, even concrete skyscrapers come alive.
Sleep walking each day
Unaware that everywhere
Life and death entwine.
OK, that’s my poor haiku verse that tries (and certainly does not succeed) to encapsulate the core of this lovely novel. This is a rare gem that deserves to be read far beyond courses in Japanese Literature.
A Little Plot:
On a whim, middle-aged architect Shozo Sakai stays on a public filled bus filled with young people till they reach their destination — a comic convention taking place on “reclaimed land” in Tokyo Bay. It is just one part of an immense landfill project where Tokyo’s waste is reborn as more Tokyo. Struck by the wide open spaces, so different from the Tokyo concrete canyons he builds and loves, Shozo lingers till twilight, when he encounters a daring motorcyclist — a young woman.
Shortly afterwards he is irresistibly drawn to a shop window display, where a young woman is adjusting mannequins that somehow convey more awareness that actually beings.
These two events reshape Shozo and his world. It is a journey you should take with him.