My friends know I love books, but it’s actually rare that I receive a book gift. Most choose to get me book vouchers, so that I can choose to get the books I want. But somehow it’s just extra special when people take the time and effort to pick out a book for me, whether it’s something that they think I’ll like, or a book which they love and want to share with me.
I received this book as a gift from a dear fried. It came to me at a time when I was not in the best shape and going through a tough time. The gesture was sweet, and while I probably didn’t verbalise it, I was touched. It took me a long time to finish the book, because I went back to re-read chapters and towards the end, I read it really slowly, wanting to savour every sentence. I didn’t want to part with the book, having gotten so much comfort and warmth from the writing. After finishing the last page of the book, it felt like I had received a double gift: a gift of the book, and a gift through the book.
Sweet Bean Paste tells the tale of Sentaro, a man who has a criminal record, who drinks too much and nowhere near to achieving his dream as a writer. He is described as a man who has failed, spending his time working in a small confectionery shop selling dorayaki, which he doesn’t even like. He goes through the motions of his work everyday, but does not feel any pride and enthusiasm in it. Everything changed when he met Tokue, an elderly woman with disfigured hands who walked into the shop one day asking for a job. She makes the best sweet bean paste Sentaro ever eaten and as their friendship blossoms, we learn more about Tokue’s troubled past and her secret.
I read the book when I was at a life juncture – closure of a chapter of my life and beginning something different. I was wondering about the meaning of life, and questioning my life choices (and getting questioned). Durian Sukegawa‘s story, deftly translated by Alison Watts, was a much needed reminder that we are all unique individuals experiencing the world in our own way and we are all equal in our relationship to the world. The book had a calming effect on me – it soothed the anxiety in me and the poignant tale provided me some warmth on the days my heart was cold.
All experience adds up to a life lived as only you could. I feel sure the day will come when you can say: this is my life. You may never become a writer or a master dorayaki cook, but I do believe there will be a time when you can stand tall as yourself in your own unique way.
This is probably my favourite line in the story. I needed to hear this, that it was okay not to be “useful” or to excel. It’s okay to just be ourselves, and it doesn’t make us any lesser of a person if we are not a useful member of society, and we have not failed just because we did not achieve what we wanted to do.
Thank you, for the story. I’m thankful to be able to read it, and to have gotten to know the friend who gifted this to me.
I hope that in sharing about the book, more people can discover this gem. ♡
p.s. I’m craving for good dorayaki again after writing this.