Monday, May 6, 2013

[Book Review] Hikikomori and the Rental Sister

Title: Hikikomori and the Rental Sister
Author: Jeff Backhaus
Date Published: January 8, 2013
Source: ARC
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: ★★★


About the Book:
Inspired by the real-life Japanese social phenomenon called hikikomori and the professional rental sisters hired to help, Hikikomori and the Rental Sister is about an erotic relationship between Thomas, an American hikikomori, and Megumi, a young Japanese immigrant hiding from her own past. The strange, insular world they create together in a New York City bedroom and with the tacit acknowledgment of Thomas s wife reveals three human hearts in crisis, but leaves us with a profound faith in the human capacity to find beauty and meaning in life, even after great sorrow. Mirroring both East and West in its search for healing, Hikikomori and the Rental Sister pierces the emotional walls of grief and delves into the power of human connection to break through to the world waiting outside.
A poignant tale of loss, depression, dedication, faith, healing and love. 

The Japanese term "Hikikomori" means acute social withdrawal. It refers to the phenomenon of reclusive adolescents or young adults who withdraw from social life, often seeking extreme degrees of isolation and confinement. (source: Wikipedia)

In Japan, this is a common enough phenomenon, but in other countries, it has yet to be identified and addressed. Since I have a fascination with the Japanese culture, I requested to read and review this book. Thankfully, I was approved.

In Jeff Backhaus' Hikikomori and the Rental Sister, we meet Thomas, an American hikikomori who has lived in isolation in his room for three years. Even his wife, Silke, couldn't get him to come out, so she engaged the help of Megumi, a Japanese immigrant who once had a brother who was also a hikikomori.

First off, I love how Thomas' mind worked. His different level of thinking was poetically depicted in the novel and I really liked it. There was also contrast as to Thomas' trail of thoughts at the beginning of the book and at the end, which really showed just how much change he went through.

The thing is, different people have different ways of coping with grief. It just so happened that Thomas dealt with his grief through isolation. Or perhaps, in creating his own world outside the norms of society. And this was thoroughly depicted in this novel, which I found really unique.

As for the relationship between Megumi and Thomas, while I disapprove of the intimate relationship they share (cheating is cheating no matter how much you justify it), I understand why it happened. It was like they were two broken people who found solace in each other. They didn't need to be fixed, they needed to be understood and cared for. 

Another interesting comparison I found was between Megumi and Thomas. Yes, I found that they were two broken people with lots of issues, but while Thomas stayed isolated, Megumi remained active in society. The novel showed the contrasting coping mechanisms they used to deal with their problems. Thomas escaped by isolation, Megumi escaped entirely to a new country.

I also appreciate Silke, Thomas' wife, for her dedication and patience, even when Thomas hardly ever responded to her. She loved him deeply and stuck it out for him even in the worst of circumstances, that's why I felt vindicated by the end of the story.

For me, the most beautiful part of the story would be the end. It wasn't as grand as most happy endings were, but it was bittersweet. It made me feel like looking back at everything that happened, I would just smile despite the tragedy and loss.

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