“To be homeless is to be ignored when people walk past while still being in full view of everyone.”
Tokyo Ueno Station by Miri Yū, translated by Morgan Giles, is one of those books that could make you love it and also break your heart at the same time. It won 2020 National Book Award for Translated Literature. The story is narrated by Kazu, a homeless man living in a makeshift shelter in Ueno Park. The hardship and emotional pains he had endured throughout his life are poignantly told.
Kazu was born in Fukushima in the same year as the Emperor but the stars in his sky are no as blessed as the Emperor’s. He grew up in poverty and had been working since he was young. As an adult, he worked in construction which separated him from his wife and children. When his son passed away suddenly, he agonised over the loss. Then he encountered another loss. These unfortunate events somehow derailed his life. He moved to Tokyo, living in the park and working small jobs to earn just enough money for his meals.
Kazu thought he would be reunited with the dead once he’s dead. Hoping death would resolve something he’s been suffering and it would be the end of everything. Now he’s dead but his spirit lingers around the park where he used to live with other homeless people. Different from his expectation, he still can remember his past and feel his old wounds. Death isn’t a closure he had expected. As he travels the vicinities of the park, he observes other people and listens to their conversations. In between his observations, he slowly unfolds his past through flashbacks.
Through Kazu’s character, the struggles of homeless people and how the government put them to live in a state of constant fear are depicted heartbreakingly. The impact of real events like 1964 Olympics and 2020 Olympics, 2011 tsunami and the park being visited by the imperial family are told. Intriguingly interwoven into the story, it can sometimes be hard to turn another page. The voices we seldom heard are amplified by the writer’s exquisite yet subtle narrative. In some parts of the story, the translation seems quite insipid but I shouldn’t be expecting a colourful tone when the book is portraying the correlation between one’s personal pain and poverty. Nonetheless, it is one unforgettable book for sure. If you’re looking for a short read, I’d definitely recommend.