“Tokyo Ueno Station” by Yu Miri is a novel that refuses to let a single word go to waste.
Only 193 pages, it won the National Book Award for Translated Literature in 2020 and continues to gain popularity in the west for its blend of the surreal and the painstakingly real. It tells the story of a disenfranchised ghost reflecting on his own disappointment with the afterlife, which he expected would bring him comfort if not peace.
It brings to life social issues of contemporary Japan while also unearthing major historical events. By focusing on the tragic story of a man born into poverty, Miri’s work gives us a special glimpse of a relatively unnoticed aspect of Japan.
More than anything, though, “Tokyo Ueno Station” is a wonderful feat of art.
The novel flows seamlessly through time and space, opting for a more relished form over a typical linear format, because “life is nothing like a story in a book… There may be an ending, but there is no end.”
I recommend this book for those readers who care more about discovering a character than witnessing a gigantic plot. Kazu is a protagonist who is going to be difficult to forget.