Sweet Bean Paste by Tetsuya Akikawa 2013, translated from Japanese by Alison Watts - 2017
Tetsuya Akikawa is the pen name of Durian Sukegawa under which Sweet Bean Paste was originally published .
An International best seller
Sweet Bean Paste is very moving, almost heartbreaking at times.
It is set in a confectionary shop in Tokyo, specializing in dorayaki,a very popular pancake with a filling of sweet bean paste.
The shop is run by Sontaro. He has a troubled past, he spent two years in prison through his involvement in never quite spelled out shady activities of the shop owner. He has abandoned his dreams of wanting to be a writer and drinks too much. He works in the shop to pay back money he owes to the widow of the late owner and to live. He is maybe forty.
He buys his bean paste from vendors, then stuffs the pancakes with the paste.
He does not have any passion for his work. As far as we know, he has no friends, no living family.. He lives in a Spartan apartment. We do learn a lot about the pastry business. The owner’s widow goes over the books with him occasionally.
One day a quite elderly woman comes in the shop in response to the “Help Wanted” sign he had put in the window. He really mostly wanted someone to talk with during the day. The woman, Tokue, asks for the job. Sontoaro notices her hands are deformed and feels she Will have a hard time. He also thinks she may scare away his customers. She tells him she had been making bean paste for fifty years and offers to work for a very low wage as she totally wants the job. She loves making bean paste.it turns out her paste is simply fabulous. Business goes way up. They slowly become close. Then just before midpoint, a tragic secret is revealed about Tokue’s past.
We learn that at around 14 she was diagnosed as having Hansen’s disease, once called Leporsy. In those days, victims were confined to sanatariums, not allowed any outside contacts. Then maybe thirty years ago a cure was developed but Tokue knew nothing but living there by now. She married another victim, they had no children and now she is a widow. Sontaro is afraid his customers may be turned away if they learn her history. He decides to hide it. They both gradually become friends with a teenage girl patron. We learn slowly about the history of Sontoro, the girl and Tokue, they form a Family almost. Each loving the other as no one else does.
I really do not want to tell to much of the plot. There are very sad and very up lifting moments.
I was very moved by this book.
Durian Sukegawa studied oriental philosophy at Waseda University, before going on to work as a reporter in Berlin and Cambodia in the early 1990s. He has written a number of books and essays, TV programmes and films. He lives in Tokyo. Google Books
Born: June 17, 1962 (age 58 years), Tokyo, Japan
Books: Sweet Bean Paste