The Thorn Puller
by Hiromi Ito
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Pub Date 13 Dec 2022 | Archive Date 09 Dec 2022
Winner of the Sakutaro Hagiwara Prize and the Murasaki Shikibu Prize
Caught between two cultures, award-winning author Hiromi Ito tackles subjects like aging, death, and suffering with dark humor, illuminating the bittersweet joys of being alive.
The first novel to appear in English by award-winning author Hiromi Ito explores the absurdities, complexities, and challenges experienced by a woman caring for her two families: her husband and daughters in California and her aging parents in Japan. As the narrator shuttles back and forth between these two starkly different cultures, she creates a powerful and entertaining narrative about what it means to live and die in a globalized society.
Ito has been described as a “shaman of poetry” because of her skill in allowing the voices of others to flow through her. Here she enriches her semi-autobiographical novel by channeling myriad voices drawn from Japanese folklore, poetry, literature, and pop culture. The result is a generic chimera—part poetry, part prose, part epic—a unique, transnational, polyvocal mode of storytelling. One throughline is a series of memories associated with the Buddhist bodhisattva Jizo, who helps to remove the “thorns” of human suffering.
A Note From the Publisher
Translated by Jeffrey Angles
“The sparks of humor fly as Japanese medieval narrative and Judeo-Christian culture collide in modern-day domestic disputes. Ito may have written this book in prose, but we never forget that she’s a poet. There is a special music even in the complaints, scolding, arguments, phone conversations, and gossipy moments. As the narrative unfolds, Ito draws not only upon voices of her family members and others around her, she gathers in countless voices, including those of the dead. And how wonderful to find the rhythm of the Japanese reproduced so marvelously in this translation!”
—Yoko Tawada, author of The Emissary
“Ito’s work, which has long drawn us in, reaches a crescendo here, working off a base in fractured daily life: minefields of love and hate, frailty and death, identities and languages heard and unheard, a clash of cultures and religions in the context of the day by day. And all of this she sets against deep images of Japanese lore and literature, ancient and immediately modern, prose transformed into poetry: a contemporary master at the height of her many long-honed powers.”
—Jerome Rothenberg, editor of the poetry anthology Technicians of the Sacred
“When she was young, Hiromi Ito wrote about sex, menstruation, and childbirth. Later she wrote about child-rearing, affairs, and menopause. In The Thorn Puller she has written about parental caregiving and aging. Poets are amazing—their experiences become art, and what’s more, Itō has created a completely original literary style, which no one could imitate even if they tried. The Thorn Puller is a great achievement.”
—Chizuko Ueno, author of The Modern Family in Japan