Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa

Sweet Bean Paste bu Durian Sukegawa

“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.”

I’m glad I picked this warm and heartfelt book for my #JapanInJanuary read. Sweet Bean Paste was written by Durian Sukegawa and translated into English by Alison Watts. It explores the meaning of life, redemption, and friendship through a flavourful tale of confectionery.

Sentaro works in a little confectionary shop and sells dorayaki, a Japanese style pancake, with sweet bean paste. In past, he spent some time in prison and the shop owner helped him with his financial situation when he was released. He always wanted to be writer but he feels lost and demoralised about his purpose in life. He’s only working in this shop to pay off the debt he owes to the shop owner.

When an old lady in her seventies, named Tokue, with disfigured hands approaches him for a part time job, he is quite reluctant at first cause he doesn’t think she would be capable of the task. She convinces him to hire her with her special sweet bean paste, best he’s ever tasted. The shops sell better with Tokue’s paste and at some days, they sold out all the dorayaki. Tokue bonds with Sentaro and some of the school girls visiting the shop, too. After some time, the shop owner learns about the dark secret of Tokue’s gnarled hands and she asks Sentaro to fire Tokue but he holds up for a while. Soon, the sales declines as some people learnt about Tokue’s past so he has no choice but to let her go.

The evocative translation totally reflects the delicate narrative of Sukegawa. It is a simple storytelling however one’s perspective on life resonates remarkably throughout the second half of the novel. The author touchingly tells Tokue’s harrowing past. The book also depicts the hardships people with Hansen’s disease have to endure in past and in present days.

I love the author’s note at the end and his inspiration to write this book. The unfamiliar bond between the two characters is impeccably told whilst interlacing the thoughtful rumination of life as an outcast and how to survive in a cruel world. Such a relishing book that will definitely entice your palate.

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