The Forest of Wool and Steel

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 02 May 2019

Member Reviews

I enjoyed this quiet little Japanese novel for a while, but then it began to pall on me and seemed to be going nowhere – very slowly. It tells of a young man who is inspired to become a piano tuner and follows his quest for excellence in his chosen path and for self-fulfilment and meaning in his life. For me, there was just too much about the art of piano tuning, a subject in which I have minimal interest. It’s a character–driven novel but I couldn’t relate to the hero of the tale, and although some of the other characters are interesting up to a point, none of them particularly engaged me, and this, coupled with the slow pace and lack of incident, although I appreciated the author’s skill in conjuring up a whole little world, meant that I sighed with a certain amount of relief when I got to the end.
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A very enjoyable read, it did remind me of some books by Robert Seethaler that I have read previously. My first time reading this author and I look forward to more translated fiction by them in the future. 

A lovely, charming and warm plot with excellent and relatable charcaters. 

A gem of a book and one I will be purchasing to read again.
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‘If a piano can bring to light the beauty that has become invisible to us, and give it audible form, then it is a miraculous instrument and I thrill to be its lowly servant.’

This is a quiet, understated novel, which garnered much praise in its native Japan upon its release in 2015, has since been made into a movie, and now receives its publication in an English translation from long-time translator of Haruki Murakami, Philip Gabriel. For fans of Japanese literature this will be familiar territory; for someone expecting a rip-roaring, page-turning thrillathon then, well, this isn’t for you.

The novel spans three years in the life of Tomura, an aimless teenager about to finish his schooling in the mountains of Hokkaido. By chance he is asked to escort a piano tuner to the school’s piano and, on hearing Mr Itadori adjust the piano, he is transfixed. His experience is almost synesthetic: he pictures the forest of his childhood as he listens to the notes. His future set, Tomura goes on a training course and then, a year later, ends up back in a city near his hometown working in the same shop as Mr Itadori. He and the two other main tuners – Mr Yanagi and Mr Akino – watch over as Tomura slowly becomes more confident and proficient as a tuner. Throw in the character of the secretary Miss Kitagawa, and the piano playing twins Yuni and Kazune, and that’s pretty much it. But this is a contemplative novel, about a young man finding his calling in life, about learning lessons from our mistakes, about finding the beauty and meaning in the world around us. The title alludes to both the forest of Tomura’s youth, but also to the mechanics of the piano itself: ‘Hammers made from sheep’s wool striking strings of steel. And that becomes music.’

There is wonder in the small things, beauty in the things we take for granted in our busy lives and rush past – cherry blossom, rain and snow, plump berries ripening and falling to the ground. Much of what emerges is from conversation, slow moments of revelation, the music of the piano washing over you. It is subtle, metaphorical, imagistic. The ending is suitably uneventful, but also appropriate. At times the life-lessons can be a little obvious, but that doesn’t detract from the charm of the piece. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I can easily imagine it. In fact, reading this reminded me of the film ‘Departures’, which is about a young man learning the skill of being a traditional funeral mortician in Japan. 

Don’t expect fireworks, don’t expect cliff-hangers. Just enjoy the tranquillity, like sitting in a Zen garden, listening to the water gently tumbling over carefully placed stones. 

(With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this title.)
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The Forest of Wool and Steel is a melodious novel about a young man, Tomura, at the beginning of his career as a piano tuner. He's filled with self doubt and thinks he'll never measure up to other masterful piano-tuners.

This is a character-driven novel, where nothing much happens, Tomura's journey being more important than the destination. It felt a bit too slow at times, as it goes into quite a few details about pianos, tuning, ways of playing. I enjoyed learning a bit about this magnificent instrument, although I suspect some might find the technical details tedious. 

The writing was accessible, occasionally, seasoned with some outstanding descriptive passages.
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The Forest of Wool and Steel is a story of Tomura who at the age of 17 becomes mesmerised by the sound of a piano played by a piano tuner who just finished the tuning. Tomura suddenly realises that all he wants to do in life is to become a piano tuner. After finishing his piano tuning studies, Tomura starts working as an apprentice in a small city in Hokkaido. Tomura is observing his more experienced colleagues who have many years of experience and can tune pianos to their clients requests. Tomura loves his job but doubts often creep in making him question his capabilities and whether, one day, he can be as good as his colleagues.

This is a beautiful ode to pianos that brought me back to my childhood when I used to play piano. A stern looking man with a mustache would come around every once in a while to tune my piano while I watched him and waited excitedly for 2-3 hours until he was finished and I could try the new sound.

At just 200 pages, The Forest of Wool and Steel is a quick read with a simple, yet captivating story about one man's calling and perseverance. Natsu Miyashita has written a lyrical book that is calming, invoking music on its pages. No doubt this book will speak to more than just piano enthusiasts.

Many thanks to Penguin Random House UK and NetGalley for my review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Immersive, elegant, and utterly beautiful, it's all too tempting to compare The Forest of Wool and Steel to a captivating piano performance (for my part, I recommend Erroll Garner's More Than You Know) but to stay true to the novel itself, its probably more apt to thank the tuner, rather than the pianist, and it's safe to say that Miyashita has done an absolutely glorious job.
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A really quietly beautiful and gentle book about a piano tuner, and how he view his work and the world around him. I would recommend.
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Thanks to Doubleday and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

Within the first few moments of reading this short book, I noticed it was translated by Philip Gabriel and knew I was in for a bit of a treat. Gabriel’s translations of Haruki Murakami are peerless when it comes to translating Japanese literature and capturing the nuances of the language and capturing the author's voice.

The story follows Tomura, a young man who is apprenticed to a piano tuner. The story is set in Hokkaido which is rather different culturally and geographically to much of the rest of Japan, often referred to as Japan's wild frontier. The novel follows Tomura’s journey through his apprenticeship, and the colleagues and customers he meets along the way. Two young twins make the biggest impression on Tomura, in particular the ‘older’ sister Kazune. This is very much a character driven novel and in terms of the plot itself, nothing very much happens. Anyone who is a fan of Japanese literature will be familiar with this kind of ‘slice of life’ atmosphere but, if it’s not your cup of tea you might find the existential and philosophical ruminations difficult to slog through. There are themes relating to nature, the mountains, the Hokkaido setting, deeper meanings of music and artistry as well as Tomura’s commitment to his calling, the challenges he faces and the resilience he builds on the way..

It’s a serene, quietly thought provoking novel that may be a little TOO quiet for some.  I’ve seen it compared to Murakami but I didn’t see the similarities personally, there’s nothing uncanny here, the writer utilises imagery and metaphors to create a beautiful observation on one man's life and passion.
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‘’Inhale the scent of a forest close by. I can smell the earthy fragrance of autumn as night falls, the leaves gently rustling, I can feel the damp air of dusk descending.’’

Our story begins in autumn. Tomura, a young man from Hokkaido, starts working as an apprentice to a piano tuner, a charming man named Mr Yanagi. Tomura meets all kinds of clients, some sensitive, others abrupt and demanding, but no meeting influences him more than the acquaintance of Kazune, an enigmatic young woman, and her twin sister. It is then that Tomura understands his inclination towards the beauty of music through his unique bonding with the forest and the mountains.

‘’When I was walking near the sea, it sounded like the mountains at night.’’

When I was five or six, my mum took me for a walk in Plaka, the most beautiful neighborhood in Athens, a place where one can feel the influence of a centuries-old history, where the quaint houses stand proudly to remind us of a possibly lost innocence and quietness. It was the beginning of summer. As we were walking in one of those unbearably beautiful alleys, the sound of a piano reached us from an open window. This is a moment that is still vivid after many years, its quiet and peace fervent as ever. This is how I felt as I was reading Miyashita’s novel. The sounds and the perfumes, the moonlight gently touching the top of the trees, the sound of the leaves, the smell of the wood. The scenery, the atmosphere comes alive through the pages of this beautiful book.

I travelled to Hokkaido with Tomura and saw the seasons changing, the serene autumn reigning among them. I heard the soft, powerful notes of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and dreamt Kazune’s dreams lulled by Chopin’s Nocturnes. Few things are as beautiful as the melody coming from a piano, a sound that has the power to raise your soul to a revolution or make you dream in the moonlight. It is no easy task to depict this in a novel and yet Miyashita creates such an evocative environment, populated with beautiful characters.

Ιn a tender, heartfelt translation by Philip Gabriel, we come to know Tomura, Mr Yanagi, Kazune, to feel their wishes and insecurities. As is always evident in Japanese Literature, the characters and the dialogue communicate a deep connection between nature, family values and beliefs and the road we have decided to walk. Mr Yanagi helps Tomura fight his doubts and Tomura helps Kazune believe in herself and her vocation.

This novel is a quiet, gentle, atmospheric ode to Nature and Music. To our past and present, to bonding and the belief in ourselves, to the strength we need to discover within us. It is one more example of the uniqueness of Japanese Literature.

‘’Playing the piano is not how I’ll make a living’’, Kazune said. ‘’It’s how I’ll make a life.’’

Many thanks to Penguin Random House UK and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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The Forest of Wool and Steel follows Tomura, a seemingly unassuming young man, on his journey to being a piano tuner and manages to be inspirational and empowering in the process. It has a simple fable-like quality to it which works so beautifully and led to a rich, rewarding reading experience. I always tend to find great works of Japanese writers serene and almost calming and this was definitely the case here. Sometimes the translation can skew the original meaning, but I feel it has been carried out with precision, in this case by the delectable Philip Gabriel who has translated works of my favourite author - Murakami.

This is one of those books where nothing much actually happens, you are merely accompanying Tomura on his life's journey, but you learn so much from him. I never felt bored or as though the story was dragging. It is actually quite reminiscent of Mr Murakami's work in that respect. Exquisitely written, with great wisdom and a small but detailed cast of interesting characters, I thoroughly enjoyed this. The nuances and subtleties associated with both playing and tuning a piano are described so wonderfully that it's clear the author knows this instrument inside and out. It's also no surprise to discover that this is the mega-bestselling winner of the influential and prestigious Japan Booksellers Award and was adapted into a movie released in 2018.

At its heart, this is a compassionate, uplifting novel which encourages you to be the best you possibly can be. To find your purpose, follow your dreams and reach for your ambitions, and to persevere through the peaks and troughs along the way. The sky is the limit. Many thanks to Doubleday for an ARC.
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My thanks to the publisher and to netgalley for the opportunity to review this book.

Sometimes it is the simplest journey, apparently the least eventful, which leads to a rich experience.  This is the case here, as we follow the experiences of a trainee piano tuner, a raw, country person, with little knowledge of the instrument or the music, as he grows into his role.  Learning to do this complex, multi layered, task well is a true challenge, advice is sought from his skilled colleagues, each of whom has a different approach to their task.  Making the instrument fit the needs of the client is a puzzle which is solved, slowly, carefully, step by step, just as the piano itself is tuned.  

A beautifully written, carefully and sympathetically translated, piece which will stay with you.  'We cannot do great things .... but we can do small things with great [care]', to adapt a well known saying.
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This was a very simple and serene story.  It is the tale of a young piano tuner and his efforts to perfect his craft. The author has the most magical ability to tune out the daily hustle and bustle of real life and imbue the reader with a sense of calm and tranquility.  Possibly similar to Morgan Freeman narrating a meditation session.  It was truly a delight.
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My thanks to NetGalley and RandomHouse UK for a review copy of the book. This is a Japanese novel translated into English by Philip Gabriel (who has also translated Murakami).

The Forest of Wool and Steel tells us the story of a young man Tomura. As a high school student, Tomura was deputed one day to conduct a piano tuner, Mr Itadori to the school gym to tune the piano. Hearing him work, more specifically the sounds that he manages to produce, evokes in his mind images of the forest at nightfall, the forest being the one place where Tomura feels welcome and at peace. This experience affects him so deeply that he decides to train as a piano tuner, even though he has so far never played the piano, nor has much of a ear for music. Once he completes his course, he joins the same company where Mr Itadori works in Hokkaido, and it is here that we follow him as he learns from each little experience—attempts at tuning on his own, accompanying his mentor Mr Yanagi, and other senior tuners from the firm (including the not-so-pleasant Mr Akino), or simply from hearing performances, whether at a concert hall or in a home, as different players (clients) approach the piano differently and require different things from it. In all this, his quest is not simply to become a master tuner or a specific kind of tuner but to achieve the kind of sublime sound from his work that Mr Itadori had, and which inspired him to take up this course in the first place. Among his various clients are twins Yuni and Kazune who are sixth form students, and whose journey with the piano is in a way entwined with Tomura’s own.   

This book was an interesting read, and while nothing major happens—we are basically following Tomura through his everyday experiences, seeing him learn something new about turning though each visit to a client or each observation of another tuner—yet, at no point did I get bored or feel that the book was dragging. In fact, one feels as though one is learning with Tomura, experiencing each little lesson with him, on the quest with him to become good at his work. Throughout, Tomura is plagued by self-doubt wondering if he will ever be good enough, be able to get past the technicalities and achieve what he is looking for, revising at times, what he thinks his goal should be—this is something that I could (and am sure others would too) relate with because it is about trying to be the best that you can be at something you love, and in that, one does experience these feelings. For Tomura, besides questioning his own abilities, he is constantly considering who he is tuning for—the client, the audience, or perhaps, the instrument itself? Reading this book, something that will strike you throughout is how knowledgeable the author is, not only about the piano and music but about various nuances of tuning—humidity, whether the curtains in a room are open or closed, even the height of the stool of the player are as likely to affect sound as parts of the piano like its hammers and strings. We learn a little of the instrument’s history as well—and all of this knowledge flows naturally though the text, no information dump here. Another aspect which makes this book very pleasant to read is the images and sounds that are invoked when one reads it—Tomura is often thinking of the forest (he was brought up in a mountain village)—all very prettily described.  A pleasant read about the quest to be the best in one’s calling! (Also, it hardly feels like one is reading a translation.)

The book has won several prizes in Japan and has also been turned into a film.

The book releases on 25 April 2019!
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This beautifully lyrically written novel by the Japanese author Natsu Miyashita not only managed to convey to this reader clear visual images but also the sublime and haunting sound of a piano keyboard being played and tuned. The translation successfully manages to transport into another language the nuances and subtleties of the main theme of the novel which concerns the search for perfection through the beauty of sound. 

The novel can also be viewed as a coming of age story and begins when the young Tomura by chance encounters in his school the piano tuner undertaking his annual task. Tomura is mesmerised by the sound which resonates to him with the forest that surround his mountainous village. From this epiphany Tomura decides that his destiny is to become a piano tuner himself and the book then narrates the arduous and slow journey that he must take to perfect and master this most exacting and difficult of trades.

Consumed by self doubt Tomura must find out whether he does have the calling to master all the intricacies inherent in this profession under the guidance of three master piano tuners all with their distinctive styles and personalities. I found this a sumptuous and magical read that has many layers of complexity. There is also a beautiful cover that perfectly emulates the content. A most enjoyable and spiritual read.
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The Forest of Wool and Steel is a metaphor for a piano, which creates music through wool felt hammers striking steel strings.

Tomaru is an aimless student from the mountain country, until he hears a piano tuner at work in his high school gym. The experience transports him and he instantly knows what he wants to do with his life. After getting some training, he gets a job as an apprentice. The book then recounts his slow progress towards mastery of his chosen trade, including years of self-doubt and reservations about his abilities from his co-workers. In this path he finds a muse, Kazune, a student whose talent he recognises and who sparks a desire in him to be a tuner that she will want to work with.

This is quite an unusual concept for a novel. Miyashita's characters are warm and empathetic, and her story provides a gentle and observant account of the twisting path to attaining one's goals in life.
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“You have to strip away all preconceptions” says one of the characters in Natsu Miyashita’s novel The Forest of Wool and Steel, and I tried when I picked up this book. It was an adventure for me at all sorts of levels. I don’t read much Japanese literature — barely any, in fact — and it’s set in the rather arcane world of piano tuning, about which I know nothing. 

And it’s a book in translation, which wouldn’t normally bother me but there were a couple of clumsy turns of phrase which caught me out, and I wasn’t sure how much of this was down to the translator or ho much was the intention of the author — nothing significant, but enough to distract me. (“A celebratory piece to celebrate the happy couple” is one example.

Tomura is deputed one day to take the local piano tuner to deal with the school piano and this sets off a burning ambition within him to become a piano tuner himself. As he works his way through his apprenticeship he learns life lessons to add to his piano tuning — lessons about talent and persistence, humility and failure. And he learns them not just from his colleagues but from his clients, in particular the talented twin pianists Yuni and Katsune. 

Perhaps it was me, but it took a long while to get going. The technical stuff went over my head and the way that every well-tuned piano brought some positivity into the lives of even the most clumsy amateur pianist left me feeling a little inferior. (I too have had a bad piano tuned and I’m afraid I couldn’t hear any of the subtle differences that Miyashita describes. Was that me? Or did I just have an awful piano tuner?)

I enjoyed it, though. It wasn’t a rip-roaring read but eventually I was drawn in to Tomura’s pilgrimage, to his understanding and interpretation of how the forest of wool and steel (the description of the innards of a piano) tied in with his own upbringing. By the end I understood that he’d learned a lot about himself and his soul, and it’s a book I’ll be thinking about for a while to come. 

Thanks to Netgalley and Random House Uk for a copy of this book in return for an honest review.
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This was a beautifully written ode to piano music and tuning.

We follow a young man called Tomura study how to become a tuner and work alongside his colleagues. I also learned a lot about the work itself, which is rather interesting.

This is a slow-paced and lyrical book.
If you like Japanese fiction, I can recommend this book.

Thank you Netgalley for providing me with a copy.
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The Forest of Wool and Steel is a book for music lovers, especially if you're into piano, I think you'll love it. 
It's beautifully written, at least it was a good translation, and very lyrical. 
Tomura is the lead character who has his heart for piano tuning from early ages and we go along his journey. It's of course not only about piano tuning, it's also about his building of his own confidence, doing what you love and having a purpose in life. I loved going through his journey in this little, touching book. One of those uplifting books that you can read in a short time. 
I'd recommend it to all literary fiction and music lovers.
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The title of this book is a reference to the internal workings of a piano where wool, in the form of felt covering the hammers, and steel, in the form of piano strings, make the metaphorical forest but also make music.

When Tomura hears a piano being tuned in his school hall, this sets him on a path to becoming a piano tuner himself. It turns out piano tuning, at least in this book, is a lot more complicated than simply ensuring each string on the piano plays the right note. Tomura has to battle with his own self-doubt as he gradually progresses through his apprenticeship: has he got what it takes to be a truly great piano tuner?

I went on a very enjoyable journey with this book. It is deceptively simple in many ways. You can read it as a story of a man learning to tune pianos and of a pair of identical twins who play one of those pianos. But I found myself stopping again and again to wonder if there were other things going on.

To begin with, I felt like I was reading a Haruki Murakami novel. It’s a different type of story to Murakami, but I kept being reminded of all the Murakami books I have read. Then I discovered the translator is Philip Gabriel who has translated a lot of Murakami, so that was one mystery solved. I think this is the clearest example I have noticed of a translator’s style carrying over between authors.

But then, as Tomura’s story develops, I found myself thinking that perhaps this is a story about what it means to be a person who enables the talent of others to show, what it means to learn to be content when you live in the shadows while others live in the limelight:

    "The ideal sound is in harmony with the person who plays the instrument - a sound that allows the pianist’s own
     talents and personality to shine most brightly. No one thinks about the skill of the tuner. And that is perfectly

Then again, as the story progresses, I began to wonder if pianos are simply a symbol for people. Some are old, some are new. Some are expensive/wealthy, some are cheap/poor. Some are cared for, some are neglected. We meet lots of pianos and all them seem almost to be metaphors for different people, people who can be rescued when a “tuner” helps to re-tune them and bring them back to life.

    "There is always the potential even in a long-abandoned piano, cast aside in the worst conditions. If a tuner is 
    called out on a job, that always means someone is planning to play that piano. No matter what its 
    circumstances, it will be ready for action once it has been through our hands.

    And so I began, intent on getting this piano back to the best condition possible."

But then I thought that maybe this was a book about relationships and the way that they can re-tune our lives. Tomura has a long discussion with his younger brother at one point and this brother points out a few home truths which cause Tomura to re-think.

    "Something I’d pushed away from my life had jumped right back into me. It felt as if the outline of the world had
    suddenly been thrown into sharper relief."

Tomura has been re-tuned!

But then I began to wonder if the author was asking us to consider novelists as piano tuners, novels as pianos and readers as piano players. Novelists take time to pick and choose words, make the books they write sound the best they can. But what comes out of the books is largely down to the reader. This paragraph is almost certainly me playing a tune with this book that wasn’t in the author’s mind when she tuned the words. One of the joys of reading a novel is that you, the reader, have your own interpretation, play your own tune. Some of what you come up with will coincide with what the author thought about, some may not.

The reason I have given this book a high rating is simply because all of these different layers and ideas kept cropping up as I read it. I have no idea how many of these, if any, were the intention of the author, but I don’t think that matters. Natsu Miyashita has given us an instrument on which to play our own tunes and for that we should thank her.

My thanks to Transworld Publishers for an ARC of this book via NetGalley. A comfortable 4.5 stars, if only half stars were an option!
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What a wonderful, peaceful and relaxing book. I love anything set and written about Japan so this was perfect for me! I have a small amount of knowledge of the Piano, tuning and playing and this was spot on. The effect an instrument can have on a person is amazing. I love the describing of the process of tuning and the effect it had on the main character. A quick, very enjoyable read.
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