Sweet Bean Paste – Durian Sukegawa
May 16, 2020 § 2 Comments
First published in Japanese in 2013
Translated into English by Alison Watts in 2017
The story revolves around a lonely man who works alone at a dorayaki shop. He’s been working there for many years, not because he particularly likes it there, or that he likes the sweet desert. He’s only there to repay a debt to a man who had been kind enough to take him in when he was at rock bottom. He’s counting days to when his debt can finally be repaid, and he can go on with his life. Though what that might look like is also already quickly fading away from him.
One day, an old woman approaches him, offering to work for him for pennies, almost, and then giving him a small batch of the most delicious red bean paste that he has ever tasted.
How do you turn away such a magical gift? But why does this old woman strike him slightly odd, as if there is something she is hiding from him? And yet he doesn’t press on, because who doesn’t have a secret or two?
I’ve had rather mediocre experiences so far with books that centre around food and cooking. It’s weird, because I love watching cooking shows, but when it comes to books, somehow the sensuality and anticipation of the cooking process just doesn’t quite hit my senses.
I’ve found that it was the same with this book. For all the beautiful prose and deep mind wanderings that I loved, the dorayaki didn’t reach me. It’s a lovely book, really, that visits some of the emotions that I talked about in my previous post—that sense of loneliness and melancholy—and yet I reached the final page feeling a little bit underwhelmed.
I also liked how the author explored this concept that one’s value is determined by how useful he/she is to society. It’s a concept I sometimes find myself questioning as well. Why are we here? What is the point? How do we make it worthwhile? And sometimes I think, this being “useful to society” is a very Asian concept, maybe because of Confucius, because the focus is on the bigger picture, on something larger than yourself.
Maybe the author didn’t quite spend enough time contemplating this through the story. But he definitely planted the seeds.