Each year, thousands of people undertake a pilgrimage to a garden in the north-east of Japan, one of the areas worst affected by the 2011 tsunami. There stands a phone box, the Wind Phone, that anyone is free to use to speak to loved ones who are lost or missing. It sounds like fiction, but it’s true – I first heard about it on This American Life.
Laura Imai Messina is an Italian author who has been living in Japan for the past fifteen years, and she has taken this remarkable true story and used it as the basis of her new novel, The Phone Box At The Edge Of The World (translated into English by Lucy Rand). The wonderful team at Bonnier (via Allen and Unwin) were kind enough to send me a copy for review.
Yui lost her mother and daughter in the tsunami. When she seeks out the Wind Phone, hoping for answers and strength, she meets Takeshi, who is doing the same. He is a bereaved widower, whose young daughter stopped speaking altogether in the wake of their loss.
The story unfolds around Yui and Takeshi as they return to the phone box, again and again.
It’s a beautiful premise, but for me the prose fell a little short. I guess I was expecting something like a blend of Sayaka Murata and Elena Ferrante, but the tone of The Phone Box At The Edge Of The World is closer to Cecilia Ahern or Marian Keyes. It’s a fine story of losing and finding family, but unfortunately it doesn’t quite live up to the heart-wrenching stories of the real-life Wind Phone.