The Forest of Wool and Steel

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 02 May 2019

Member Reviews

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.
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
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!
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
“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.
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
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
     fine."

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!
Was this review helpful?
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.
Was this review helpful?
Such an appealing story.  Knowing next to nothing about pianos and still less about tuning them, I was fascinated by all the detail involved in a piano tuner’s job.  What clients mean when they want a ‘bright’ sound, for example, and how people’s perception of sound varies.  I was particularly taken with the narrator’s likening of the nuances of tone and pitch to the sounds of the forest he grew up in - many opportunities for gorgeous descriptions here.  Interesting, too, are his thoughts on the Ancient Greeks’ ideas about the interdependence of astronomy and music.

‘In a way I could agree, though, how astronomy and music could be considered foundational to understanding the world.  You extract some stars from all the countless ones and make them into constellations.  Tuning is similar.  You select things of beauty that have dissolved into the fabric of the world.  You gingerly extract that beauty, careful not to damage it, and then you make it visible.

Seven sounds - do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do, or twelve if you include semitones - are teased out, named, and then they sparkle just like the constellations.  And it’s the tuner’s job to pick these out with precision from the vast ocean of sound, arrange them delicately and make them resonate.’

 A thoroughly enjoyable book, with a beautiful cover artwork that reflects the story perfectly.
Was this review helpful?
There is something mesmerising about Japanese literature that captures my imagination so effortlessly. The anaolgies used, the descriptive language selected; it all flows so beautifully and naturally that it makes me feel comforted and absorbed at the same time. Such magical work done by Gabriel to maintain the lyricism of the story in the crossover of translation.

A story for piano and music lovers alike. It's the story of Tomura, his desire to become a piano tuner and the perseverance to turn his dreams into reality. If you're a lover of Japanese literature you'll easily be lifted into the narrative and transported away. If you love the piano, your heart will be warmed reading this wonderfully melodic story.
Was this review helpful?
The Forest of Wool and Steel is a book that could be described as a love song to the piano.It is a beautiful and (appropriately) lyrical work that will stir the hearts of piano-lovers everywhere. It is a homage to music, and to the art of perseverance. I loved following Tomura on his journey as he learnt both how to tune a piano and how to believe in himself and find his purpose in life. The story and characters captured my imagination and rekindled my own love for the piano. It's a book I would recommend to all who love music and literary fiction.
Was this review helpful?
This book initially attracted me because the story was so beautifully simple. There is no complex fantasy world where battle-hardened heroines fight against the mystical forces of darkness. There is one man, Tomura, and his somewhat unextraordinary journey to realising his dream of becoming a great piano tuner.

The book is already published in Japan and the edition that I am reviewing is the English translation. It is not the sort of book I would normally go for but the write-up made some bold claims. “Mega-bestselling”, “Over a million copies sold.” Something with that much of a build up must be worth a look!

The translation is well-done. If you did not know it had been translated from Japanese to English, you might find the sentences to be short, clip and precise, and yet still perfectly enjoyable to read.

Set in small-town Japan, this warm and mystical story is for the lucky few who have found their calling – and for the rest of us who are still searching. It shows that the road to finding one’s purpose is a winding path, often filled with treacherous doubts and, for those who persevere, astonishing moments of revelation.”

Tomura, our main character, is an unassuming young man from a small village in the mountains of rural Japan. His life changes the day he witnesses the school piano being tuned. The sound and smells conjure scenes in his mind of a forest. He is entirely bewitched by the experience and makes his mind up to become a piano tuner. 

He leaves his small village and studies piano tuning, eventually taking a position as an apprentice at a small company. The story follows Tomura as he learns from the three master tuners and forges relationships with his clients. 

Every encounter with a piano teaches him something different and each experience with beautiful piano music transports him somewhere stunning. It is this collection of experiences that he forges connections with and uses to obtain the skills to tweak the subtle tones and timbres that each individual piano produces.

Each of his mentors, while being very different in character, give him valuable advice and encourage him to have confidence in himself. 

We follow Tomura’s triumphs and setbacks over the years of his apprenticeship. I really felt his joy and exacerbation as I followed his journey.

We have a piano at home, one of the reasons I wanted to read this book. It is a 200-year-old upright cottage piano. Once a year we have the piano tuned, our tuner arrives, sets to work and I leave him to it. I cannot play anything more than chopsticks on it but my children are having lessons and I look forward to the day they can play to me.

Before I read the Forest of Wool and Steel, I took for granted what it meant to tune a piano. The tuner uses his skills to tune the piano to the correct key, yes, but there is so much more to it. The tuner is able to manipulate the finer aspects of the notes to completely change the mood of the sound it produces. The book goes into great detail about this fascinating process.

Aside from giving me a greater appreciation of the piano as a massively under-appreciated instrument, Tomura’s story helped me understand the merits of perseverance, dedication and passion to achieve your dreams – however big or small they might be. 

I rather unexpectedly enjoyed this story, it was beautiful, kept me engaged (I read the entire book in two evenings) and taught me a thing or two. However, it didn’t excite me. I wasn’t overwhelmed with any kinds of strong emotions. Honestly, it was easy-going reading, the sort I enjoy when I’m tired and can’t focus on anything too heavy. That being said, I was invested. I cared what happened to Tomura and the other characters.

I give The Forest of Wool and Steel 4/5.
Was this review helpful?
A short and powerful translation from the Japanese, following the journey of a young piano tuner and the things he learns along the way.

Melodic and beautiful, I enjoyed this.
Was this review helpful?