A Bustle Most Anticipated Book of 2018
amNY, "Must Read Books in 2018"
The Huffington Post, “60 Books We Can't Wait to Read in 2018”
BookBub, “25 Debut Novels We Can’t Wait to Read in 2018”
iBooks, “10 Debut Novels You Must Read”
A Library Journal Best Audiobook of 2018
Praise for Rainbirds
"A murder mystery and a family drama in one, this book is as beautiful as it is understated. The author presents us with a fascinatingly structured look into Japanese society and a depiction of mourning and grief that is universally recognizable."
—San Francisco Chronicle
"A transnational literary tour-de-force. Readers will be carried along by its creepy charm."
—The Japan Times
"Debut author Clarissa Goenawan spins a dark, encapsulating story that will certainly reel you in completely."
"Mysterious and dark."
"With its dream sequences, chance encounters and leisurely attention to music and food, this debut novel evokes the simple joys of early Haruki Murakami . . . A satisfying heartfelt tale about letting go."
"Elegantly [combines] a suspenseful mystery with an eloquent meditation on love and loss."
"Throughout this novel, numerous moments pleasantly evoke the surrealism of Murakami, the nightmarish descriptions of Abe, the alienated youth of Yoshimoto, and the ill-fated lovers of Kawabata. But Rainbirds, suffice it to say, is a different beast, a contemporary work of noir that draws readers into an eerie landscape that is hard to forget."
—Los Angeles Review of Books
"A coming-of-age read with a dark twist."
"If you love atmospheric mysteries full of light and mist, dreams and omens, all set in small-town Japan, read Rainbirds."
—Lillian Li, author of Number One Chinese Restaurant, in The Millions
"A thrilling unraveling of a single, complex mystery. Intriguing and unique . . . riveting . . . a spellbinding murder mystery."
"In a genre-bending novel about family and loss that shifts from a murder mystery to magical realism, Goenawan infuses her postmodern tale with enough complexity, suspense, and emotional connection to make it memorable and haunting."
—Library Journal, Starred Review
"Dreamlike . . . character-driven focus and introspective tone will attract literary-fiction readers."
"[A] well-paced mystery . . . Goenawan’s debut balances a finely wrought plot with patient, measured portraits of fragile relationships, making for a spare yet inviting novel that grabs hold and doesn’t let go."
"Goenawan's debut proves to be a soulful whodunit full of deadpan humor and whimsical narrative unpredictability. A witty, well-constructed debut."
"Evocative . . . an intricate, powerful novel."
—Reviewing the Evidence
"Goenawan offers a moving investigation of love, loss, and grief."
—Asian Review of Books
"A work of deep tenderness and ardent storytelling."
"Goenawan’s certainly talented as a writer; the novel’s immensely readable, intensely atmospheric."
—Asian American Literature Fans
"Luminous, sinister, and page-turning all at once. I loved it."
—Kate Hamer, internationally bestselling author of The Girl in the Red Coat and The Doll Funeral
"A beautiful mystery setup with a complex, magical love story."
—Eka Kurniawan, award-winning author of Beauty Is a Wound
"A beautiful, well-crafted story, Rainbirds is an exploration of grief, love and loss. Clarissa Goenawan has written a powerful debut novel that will leave readers craving more."
—Hollie Overton, internationally bestselling author of Baby Doll
“Like the imaginary town in Japan in which it takes place, Rainbirds possesses a charm that is at once cloistered, quiet, and mysterious. Carefully crafted and paced, the novel captivates with its reflective, dreamlike tone. A promising debut from Clarissa Goenawan.”
—Dee Lestari, award-winning singer-songwriter and author of the Supernova series
“Rainbirds is that rarest of debut novels—confident, transportive, and utterly enthralling. Clarissa Goenawan explores the mysteries of small-town Japan, drawing readers in with understated prose, then ensnaring with a subtle spell, exposing, grain by grain, the secrets behind a young woman’s death.”
—Barry Lancet, award-winning author of Japantown
"A hauntingly moving story of loss and alienation."
—Jake Arnott, internationally bestselling author of The Long Firm
"Rainbirds is a deeply immersive novel: I lost myself in Goenawan's masterful rendering of a sleepy Japanese town."
—Elisa Lodato, author of An Unremarkable Body
“A touching and evocative exploration of grief and love in a fictional Japanese town, Rainbirds is a haunting debut.”
—Susanna Jones, award-winning author of The Earthquake Bird
Goenawan’s well-paced mystery follows ruminative Japanese graduate student Ren Ishida as he returns to the town where his sister was murdered. When Keiko Ishida was found dead in the small town Akakawa, she had sustained stab wounds, had tie marks on her wrists, and was lying alongside a bloody kitchen knife—but nothing was missing from her purse and there’s no known motive. She was also carrying a pack of birth control pills, though she’d been tight-lipped about her romantic life and never mentioned a boyfriend. Ren plans to stay just long enough to collect his sister’s belongings, but is drawn into the town’s morass when he temporarily takes over his sister’s old teaching post at a cram school and agrees to fill her room in a politician’s graveyard-quiet mansion (where he reads Rushdie to the politician’s silent wife, Ms. Katou, in exchange for lodging). As Ren becomes invested in Ms. Katou’s (and other townspeople’s) backstories, he’s also drawn into a beguiling friendship with one of his students—whom he nicknames “Seven Stars” for the brand of cigarettes she smokes—which gets increasingly thorny as he realizes she may be connected to his sister’s troubled past. Goenawan’s debut balances a finely wrought plot with patient, measured portraits of fragile relationships, making for a spare yet inviting novel that grabs hold and doesn’t let go. (Mar.)
This first novel by Goenawan, an Indonesian-born Singaporean writer, is set in 1990s Japan, when Ren Ishida, a twentysomething literature student, is notified that his older sister Keiko has been murdered in a small town outside of Tokyo. In his despair, the grieving Ren leaves Tokyo and moves to the small town where he seeks traces of his sister's life while rebuilding his own. He assumes Keiko's role as a teacher in a cram school and talks to the people she knew in the hopes of reconnecting with her life. As he meets students, prominent politicians, a sage poet, and other town residents, Ren connects the woven fates of their lives to his sister, and now his own. The prose is sparse but intricately detailed, capturing Ren's feeling of despair and isolation in the shadow of mourning for his lost sibling. VERDICT In a genre-bending novel about family and loss that shifts from a murder mystery to magical realism, Goenawan infuses her postmodern tale with enough complexity, suspense, and emotional connection to make it memorable and haunting.—Ron Samul, New London, CT
When a Japanese graduate student's sister is violently murdered in a small town in rural Japan, he abandons his life and steps into her shoes to come to terms with her death.Ren Ishida has always admired his sister, Keiko, from afar. He grew up obsessing over her love life despite never having much of his own. He pursued the same major as her at university—a study of British and American literature—with ambitions of becoming a teacher, just like her. But when Keiko is stabbed to death on the street in the small town she calls home, Ren is so guilt-ridden and grief-stricken that he travels to her town under the pretense of obtaining her ashes and finalizing her affairs but ends up moving into her home and replacing her as an English teacher at the local high school. Over the course of Ren's spiritual reconnection with his sister, he unwittingly uncovers the mystery behind her murder and unearths shocking family secrets in the process. Goenawan's debut proves to be a slow, soulful whodunit full of deadpan humor and whimsical narrative unpredictability in an attempt at a Murakami-esque aesthetic. Ren's barren, unreliable narration can be as hilarious as it is sad, and an interesting cast of characters—a girl in his class nicknamed Seven Stars, with whom he forms a taboo romantic entanglement that torments him; his friend and fellow teacher, Honda—gives the novel a voice and world of its own. Goenawan unfortunately struggles with transitions between present action and flashback, and the novel falls victim to plot holes and linguistic clichés (an underage Seven Stars to Ren, while wearing her schoolgirl uniform: "Didn't you say age was only a number?").A witty, well-constructed debut that manages to overcome moments of cliché.