Book review: 『ひと』 by Fuminori Onodera

Title: ひと
First published: 2018
Published: 2021
Format: Bunko
Page Count: 330
『ひと』has won the second place of the Japan Booksellers’ Award in 2019.

『ひと』was not a book for me unfortunately. It tells the story of 20 year-old Seisuke whose mother dies unexpectedly, leaving him without family ties (his father died several years ago) and without finacial support. Seisuke has no choice but to quit university and try to make a living of his own.

With this setting, I thought that this book would be about loneliness, struggle and fight to both support oneself financially and find a new place in the society outside of preconceived tracks. I was looking for a memorable character who will find a way to stand strong despite everything.

The novel is the reverse of what I was expecting. We don’t really see Seisuke fighting in a hostile world, rather, good things happen to him and keep happening to him. Instead of a character who has to be stronger because he has less, we have a character who receives more because he has less. The obi actually summarises the book very well when it states: 独りだから、そばにひとがいる、ありがたさを知る. The only true challenge for Seisuke will be to learn to rely on people and accept their help.

The word 独り is also a little misleading. Even though Seisuke finds himself without family support, he is far from being alone. His new employer and collegues act like a new family, he has friends, and is dating a former classmate. There is not a single page in the novel that made me feel even a tiny sense of solitude, mourning, despair or fear, which are things you certainly should expect to feel in this context.

I also found Seisuke hard to identify with. He is a bit too passive to make an interesting protagonist to me. Things (mostly good things) happen to him, but he does not really provoke them. He looks like a lucky character rather than an inspiring figure.

This book is more a heart-warming story which shows you that there are always good people out there who are eager to help. We learn that one can be generous even in poverty, and that there is no shame in accepting a helping hand when one is in need. There are several things I liked in the novel, and sure, reading this book felt good in the end, but I don’t think that reading it brought me much.

Overall, I was expecting more from a book that won the second place in the Japan Booksellers’ Award (本屋大賞), but I would still recommend it if you are looking for a feel-good story or a relatively easy book to read in Japanese.