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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Moshi Moshi

Yoshimoto Banana

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To purchase Moshi Moshi

Title: Moshi Moshi
Author: Yoshimoto Banana
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 206 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Moshi Moshi - US
Moshi Moshi - UK
Moshi Moshi - Canada
Moshi Moshi - Deutschland
Moshi moshi - Italia
  • Japanese title: もしもし下北沢
  • Translated by Asa Yoneda

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Our Assessment:

B : fine story of dealing with grief and transitioning to adulthood

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The National . 8/12/2016 James McNair

  From the Reviews:
  • "It’s Yoshimoto’s beguiling evocations of life’s small details, though, which make Moshi Moshi a joy to read despite its dark undercurrent." - James McNair, The National

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Moshi Moshi is narrated by twenty-something Yoshie, still very much in the process of working through the recent death -- in "a love murder-suicide" -- of her father. About a year after his death she moved out of the family apartment in the upscale Tokyo district of Meguro, decamping to the more colorful Shimokitazawa neighborhood, where the culinary school graduate got a job at a small local bistro, 'Les Liens', and moved into an apartment nearby; Moshi Moshi is an account of her time in Shimokitazawa, still processing the death of her father.
       The locale is central to the novel -- whose Japanese title isn't just 'Moshi moshi' (the traditional Japanese greeting when you answer the phone, but rather 'Moshi moshi Shimokitazawa' [もしもし下北沢], and it is clearly meant to echo Ichikawa Jun's 2000 neighborhood-portrait film, ざわざわ下北沢 ('Zawa Zawa Shimokitazawa'), as the book even opens with Yoshie noting how she loved the movie -- and how she watched it over and over "to try and give myself the courage to move there". She makes the leap, and eventually, Shimokitazawa becomes her 'hometown': "the place where I had something to protect; the place I was going home to". So also, much of the novel is devoted to describing the small places and characters from the neighborhood that so appeal to Yoshie -- and then also her mother, who also leaves their old apartment, with its stifling memories, and lifestyle (she had long played along with the "Meguro Madame lifestyle")
       Yoshie leads a fairly simple life, kept busy at the restaurant where she still feels very much like an apprentice -- as she does generally, taking tentative steps towards figuring her life out. Her father's death still haunts both her and her mother -- who also takes steps towards reestablishing her life, followed with some bemusement by Yoshie as a sort of secondary story-line, complementary to her own. The haunting is in part literal, as for example Yoshie recounts several dreams she has about her father, who remains a strong presence. Questions about his death, and the woman who led him to it, continue to bother her, and part of what plot there is to Moshi Moshi involves her slowly getting answers, learning more about both her father and the woman he died with.
       Part of her process of moving towards adulthood involves Yoshie's relationships with others. Her mother moving in with her isn't stifling, as her mother in fact is also looking to change her life -- a process of her finding her own place and role in life, separate from Yoshie. The owner of Les Liens -- the name already suggesting a connection and link -- is very much a mentor, but midway through the novel they learn that the building which houses the bistro is to be demolished at the end of the year, marking a clear exit-point for at least this stage in the story and their relationship. Yoshie also gets involved with a man, a cautious sort of relationship where she constantly sees how small things could determine how it will ultimately go, as she realizes: "We were too young, and had too much ahead of us"; eventually she gravitates to another man, but rather than plunging right into that relationship, it too remains, for now, open-ended: eventually Yoshie has vague holds for the future (a position at her bosses new restaurant, whenever that opens; the possibility of a budding relationship) without any finality yet.
       Yoshie gets some closure with her dead-daddy-issues eventually, making the pilgrimage to the place where he died -- though she doesn't go with her mother, who is working through things at her own pace and in her own way. Yoshimoto nicely doesn't offer easy absolutes in the novel: life -- and death -- are complicated, and Yoshie is only taking her first steps in figuring it all out.
       The novel was original serialized in a newspaper, and the book-version seems to keep that easy-going pacing. Dealing with death and grief, and all the questions her father's strange sort of betrayal of family raises for Yoshie are important parts of the novel, but Yoshimoto is particularly good in presenting the everyday along with that -- getting through the day, and the small pleasures and quirks of daily life. Place -- especially Shimokitazawa --, the people Yoshie deals with every day, and all sorts of small details are closely considered and well described, right down to the food (and drink) that gets served and consumed (even beyond the bistro).
       It doesn't always work entirely -- for example:

     We ordered some excellent lamb, and waited for it to arrive, and grilled our hearts out, and devoured it with rapt attention.
       But on the whole it's quite well done.
       Moshi Moshi is agreeably subdued -- despite the sensational murder-suicide death that weighs so heavily on Yoshie -- and makes for a nice small portrait of a phase in a young woman's life, as she cautiously making her way into adulthood. It's also a nice little love-letter to a quirky corner of Tokyo.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 December 2016

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Moshi Moshi: Reviews: Yoshimoto Banana: Other books by Yoshimoto Banana under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Popular Japanese author Yoshimoto Banana (よしもと ばなな; 吉本 ばなな; actually 吉本 真秀子) was born in 1964.

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