Recently translated into English from German, The Pine Islands tells the story of Gilbert Silvester, a stuffy middle-aged lecturer in Germany. His area of academic specialisation is beard fashions in film.
One day he finds out his wife is cheating on him (or so he believes, we never discover the truth). So he flees inexplicably to Japan with just the clothes on his back.
In the vast anonymity of the Tokyo metropolis, he discovers the poetry of great Japanese poet Basho. Gilbert is suddenly infused with purpose to go on a similar spiritual journey to Basho. He embarks on a spiritual pilgrimage to the mystical pine islands of Matsushima.
Along the way, Gilbert meets a suicidal young Japanese man named Yosa, who is looking for the time and place to end his life in an elegant, meaningful and perfect way. The two of them embark on a darkly funny, quirky and moving journey, traversing both inner and outer worlds. I can’t give away much more of the story without giving away the plot, except to say that this is an intense, funny and moving story that explores mortality and life purpose.
Although it is written by a German, Marion Poschmann, this is a very Japanese novel, as it captures the inner worlds and outer landscapes of Japan in a succinct and perfect way.
Poschmann captures the spiritual reverence and connection that Japanese people feel in certain places in Japan. This is a really unique, surreal, strange and funny novel that deftly tackles deep topics in a funny way: mortality, ageing, love and connection.
This is a short book that feels like a sweeping epic novel. It is made more realistic by its portrayal of two people who are frustrated, aimless and who seem to be just biding their time on Earth, waiting for something better to come along. Some readers may find this aspect of the book frustrating, but for me this made the characters and their random journey all the more realistic. 4*/5