Teru Miyamoto is an author of literary fiction who won the Akutagawa Prize in 1978 for his novel 『螢川』. Some of his works are translated into English and French.『草花たちの静かな誓い』was published by 集英社 in 2016 and the 文庫 edition came out this year (2020).
I haven’t read much literary fiction in Japanese, but 『草花たちの静かな誓い』is definitely one of my favourite books in this area. I loved the characters and the story, but what I enjoyed the most is the realism of the setting, the precision of the descriptions and how well Teru Miyamoto has pictured the atmosphere of the Californian coast.
The story takes place in Rancho Palos Verdes, a place where rich people build expensive houses with spacious gardens and a view on the ocean. To be honest, I had never heard of Palos Verdes before reading this book, so it was very interesting to learn about this place through the perspective of a Japanese protagonist.
The author presents a californian way of life to a Japanese readership who might not be familiar to it. Our protagonist describes everything and points out details that are different from Japanese customs and habits. There is an emphasis, for example, on the cosmopolitan nature of the population. As such, reading 『草花たちの静かな誓い』 felt very different from reading a novel set in the United States but written by an American author.
While the descriptions allow the reader to have a clear vision of where the story takes place, they also give the novel a slow beginning. However, as soon as the plot starts to unfold, the novel becomes really engrossing. I read the first 100 pages very slowly, but then, I could not put the book down.
To sum up, I would say that 『草花たちの静かな誓い』has two layers. It is a novel on Palos Verdes and depicts the slow-paced lifestyle in this luxurious coastal city. But at the same time, it develops an engrossing plot that reads like a mystery novel. I would even say that the plot was more interesting than many other mystery novels I have read.
This is the first book I read by Teru Miyamoto, but he is now one of my favourite Japanese authors. You will certainly see other reviews appearing on this blog! I plan on reading his earlier writings, especially 『螢川』.