I have been waiting forever to get And so the Baton was Passed(そして、バトンは渡された). I love Seo Maiko and this is her most recent award winning novel. It took a few years, but her novel finally came out in paper back and I got it at Chicago’s Kinokuniya for $12.99. This novel is a great example of a typical Seo Maiko novel with elements of a warm writing style and themes of different shapes that a family can take.
Publication Date: 2020/09
Page count: 420 pages
Award: 2019年本屋大賞 大賞
The first part of the book covers the life of a young girl named Youko from birth to the end of high school. At a young age her mother died in an accident and she was raised by her father and grandparents. Her father tried the best that he could, but Yuko noticed that lack of presence of a mother in her life and felt jealous of her classmates. As time went on, her father remarried to Rika and the three became a family. After a few years, her father was transferred to Brazil for work. This lead to Yuko’s new family splitting up as Rika convinced her to stay in Japan instead of moving with her father. This was the start of a chain of events that lead to Yuko being passed from guardian to guardian while trying she tried her best to adapt to each new shape her family life takes.
In the second part of the story, Yuko has graduated from university and is working at her first full time job. She had several romantic relationships in university but finally decided on the guy she thought would be perfect for her. She was very pleased and imaged a fun future for herself, but was surprised to find with Miyamoto(her third father and final parent) seem deeply offended by her choice and would not give his blessing for a wedding. No matter how many times Yuko and her fiance spoke to Miyamoto, nothing seemed to change. Yuko came up with the idea of reaching out to all of her past living parents to meet up and get their blessing. She figured that if everyone else gave the okay, that Miyamoto would be forced to as well. She only has one address for her previous step-father, and she starts her adventure there hoping to find clues to her other parents locations along the way.
My experience reading this book:
While this novel is a bit longer then what I usually read, I did not have any trouble reading this novel. Seo Maiko’s writing style really matches well with me and I was able to read this novel pretty quickly. I think it took me about 4 days? I did not find vocabulary or grammar to be an issue. I think that my year of reading has really started to pay off and I find that the vocabulary and my ability to guess the readings for new words has increased greatly. I was worried about my vocabulary as I have not been doing anki recently, but I guess I am reading enough for books to be a natural SRS? I think I will start to add anki into my routine again into the future, but only with pre-made decks. I want to focus my time on reading as I possible can.
While reading this novel, I still used Tadoku.app to keep track of my pages. It can be a bit over whelming as some of the participants are putting a lot of time in, but I still find comfort in having similar goals to others using the same resource. I think using Tadoku.app is helping me to read more even thought I really have no hope of being a high ranking user. I have been floating around 6th-10th place on the list for the most part. Due to the length of my work shifts, I am unable to read on days that I work and find that when my work week is over that my ranking falls greatly.
While I haven’t really had too much of a problem with novels, I tend to have a difficult time finding TV or movie based Japanese media online to enjoy. Almost all of the stuff out there that I find is about high school students. Which I don’t mind if its well written… but I am kind of burned out from high school based plot lines when it comes to TV dramas or movies.. I have better luck with novels but I suppose that is because I am going out of my way to purchase them.
As an adult myself who is no longer in school, I loved that this novel put so much focus on the adult characters. I was a bit worried as the main character is a high school student, but I guess I shouldn’t have been too concerned as Seo Maiko always fleshes out her characters really well. And Yuko herself does tend to seem a bit more mature then her classmates at times. I guess it has somewhat to do with the independence she developed from the parent Merry-go-round she was on for pretty much her whole life. But also due to her fear of self expression and abandonment as well from her unstable life style.
One thing that stuck out to me was Yuko stating that she felt like she hasn’t had any real trouble or issues in her life. She tells both her father and friends that she needs a ‘evil step-mother’ to shake her life up and give her some character. I kept wanting to shout at her that Rika WAS her evil step-mother. This isn’t exactly a story about how Yuko was hurt or abused while she was constantly moved from guardian to guardian. While there are elements that hint at the different ways it has negatively effected Yuko, in this novel I got the impression that Seo Maiko was going for a more positive image while writing this book about the different changes families can go through and our ability to forgive and accept our family while moving on. I was really worried about Yuko and her fear of expressing her wants, but it seems that with age and experience she was able to somewhat get over this issue and stand up to her father about what she wanted to do with her life.
I think my favorite character from this novel was Yuko’s homeroom teacher, Mukai. She was very serious when it came to her profession and really took the time to know her students. She watched over them to see if there were any problems in their life that could be affecting their future or ability to do well in school. I never had a teacher like that in school, but I hope that most students are able to find an adult like that in their lives to help guide them through the hard times. I think this is something that the Japanese school is more uniquely set up for. In American high school, while I did have a ‘homeroom’ teacher, it was more of a short study hall and those teachers never really seemed to play a large role in any students life. I really admire the thought and dedication that she put into her job and want to try to do the same in my own profession.
If this novel was just the first section of the book, I would have walked away in love with And so the Baton was Passed(そして、バトンは渡された). But in the second part of the story where Yuko is an adults and getting engaged… I quickly lost interest. The characters seemed to have somewhat of a personality change and the dialog and plot was just really repetitive. I read a different novel to refresh, and then gave it another try and read it until the end. It did improve and I like the way the novel ended.
I think the main lesson to take away from this novel is a way of thinking that I have been working on developing myself. People who play a large part of your life and who you are as a person will not be in your life forever and that’s okay. While it does hurt to part with people who mean a lot to you, nothing in life is certain except for change. Through my life important people have drifted out into the world and I have done the same to others as well. The memories from past relationships are still important to me. A successful fulfilling relationship does not mean that the people in that relationship/friendship/whatever have to stay together until one of them dies.
Seo Maiko’s characters often have a strong characteristic of being able to see reality for what it is and then push on into the future. The older I get and the more hard times I’ve been through, the more I find myself getting into this mindset as well. Reflection has value, but dwelling might not. That might not apply to everyone, but I find it applies to my life well. But not everyone agrees and I have seen reviews that point out this characteristic as unrealistic and shallow. If you are looking for characters that rub salt into their wounds, Seo Maiko is not the author for you.
If you are interested in learning more about Seok Maiko’s novels, I have also written a review for her book 天国はまだ遠く.
Just to give some background to my current level. I have been using Japanese for a long time now, but just decided somewhat recently to be more serious about gaining fluent literacy. In 2020 I finished reviewing over JLPT N2 materials and have started on N1. I am planning on taking N1 in 2021. I started reading novels in 2020 and have read over 20 to completion.
Vocabulary: JLPT N2 student level(High Intermediate)
A reader who has a strong grasp of N2 grammar should be able to get through this novel with light dictionary use. Most of the words in this book will be basic general use words but there was two specific vocabulary groups that stuck out to me.
There is a lot of music related words in this book. This book dips into Yuko’s past life where her first step-mother(Rika) married an rich older man just because Youko said that she wanted to play the piano. Yuko started playing in her first year of junior high and continued on to the end of high school. While she felt like she was leagues behind her classmates that started at a younger age, every year in high school she was chosen out of her class to play the piano for the chorus recital. Her desire for a piano does effect different areas of her personal life and musical words still come up often even after the completion of her school recital.
Food seems to play a large role in this life as well. Yuko likes cooking to the point of her deciding to study nutrition in university. The food mentioned was usually fairly basic, but I think it would be a bit overwhelming at times for those who are unfamiliar with Japanese cuisine.
Grammar: JLPT N2 student level(High Intermediate)
The grammar in this book seemed to be about average for the types of popular general fiction that I tend to read. Readers with a good grasp of N2 level grammar will not find grammar to be a barrier in understand the plot of this novel. Seo Maiko has a fairly straight forward writing style that is easy to understand.
All of the characters’ dialog is written in standard dialect that is fairly easy to understand.
When I read the novel, it sounded interesting but not far fetched. I know many people in the states who have four parents. It sounds like just a family where the kids original set of parents got divorced and then each parent got remarried. In the case of a boyfriend that I had in high school, his dad was divorced twice and he called the first wife of his father ‘mom’ as he had half siblings that were related to her by blood and he would spend time over at her house pretty often. He then had her birth mother. And since high school, he had been living with his friends parents that he was very close to. I think he was up to 5 parents at that point? Or if someone told him they had 5 parents in the past, I might think that they had a somewhat short ride through the American foster care system. Or maybe they grew up in some sort of polyamory group or religious situation? Anyways, I find one child having 5 parents to be believable. In Japan, that is not the case.
If parents divorce in Japan, the kids are most likely never going to see their birth father again. And MAYBE the mom might be remarried to a man who will play a fatherly role to the children, but that’s a big maybe. While Japan has the one of the highest adoption rate in the world(USA is number one), its adults getting adopted into families not kids. I lived in Japan for 5 years and only know of three people who were adopted, three siblings who ended up being adopted by their step dad. I know countless amounts of people in America who were adopted or who live in alternative family situations.
Through out And so the Baton was Passed(そして、バトンは渡された), you will find that the main character Yuko OFTEN brings up the fact that she is not related to most of her parents by blood. Blood is kind of a huge deal in Japan. I’m American and am leaning towards adopting in the future if I decide that I want kids, but if I mentioned that to any Japanese person it doesn’t really seem to get a good reaction. In Japanese culture, blood is valued to the point where the average person would not really understand the thought process of wanting to adopt and raise a different person’s child. The lack of blood relation in the novel makes Yuko feel very insecure and like she is unable to share her true feelings or wants/needs with her step-parents. She feels like blood relationships gives normal families an extra layer of familiarity which always them to fight but still stay together as a family. Yuko worries about her future and if any of her step parents would still be there for her in adulthood if she truly expressed herself. While this issue may also be related to to her unstable family life and always being switched around between people, Yuko does seem very locked on to the idea of blood relations and she is envious of her friends who can openly dislike or fight with their parents.
This book is 420 pages. Its fairly long compared to novels that I usually tend to choose to read. But the novel goes at a good pace and doesn’t really like it drags anywhere. If you are a person who likes to make goals by chapters, then this is a good book for you. I really liked the spacing of the chapters and think that they could make good daily goals for some readers. The book is broken down into two different sections. The first part is 317 pages long with 25 chapters. They are pretty evenly spaced, so like 12-13 pages per chapter on average?
The book is split into two distinct sections, before and after university.
Who should read this book?
Language learners who have a good grasp of all N2 study areas.
Language learners who want to get more into Japanese literacy social media. Reading award winning books has definitely opened up my world more to Japanese Book Twitter and other sources of book discussions.
People who are looking for a warm writing style that focuses on the different forms family and relationships can take.
Since Youko’s instrument of choice is the piano, I think this book would pair well with the 2016 winner of the Bookseller’s award, A Forest of Wool and Steel(羊と鋼の森). In A Forest of Wool and Steel, a young high school student fall in love with piano tuning and decides to pursue it as a career despite the fact that he doesnt know how to play one. I read the first few chapters of this book before and it was very easy to read. Would be a good choice for N2 students. And if you enjoy learning about pianos and piano related vocabulary in Japanese, そして、バトンは渡された and A Forest of Wool and Steel(羊と鋼の森) would be a good combo to help you really cement related vocabulary into your mind.
There is a movie based off of A Forest of Wool and Steel(羊と鋼の森) that I really want to see. It looks great based off of the trailer, but I am waiting to finish the novel before I watch it. I think that this movie could be a good starting point for picking up music related vocabulary as well. While I myself am not really musically talented, it reminds me of all of the types of vocabulary a native speaker is familiar with despite their interests. Most native speakers will know the basics of words involved in most hobbies and there is an endless amount of vocabulary for language learners to be introduced too.
The Bliss Dinning Table(幸福な食卓) is the novel that really made Seo Maiko an obsession of mine. This story is equally as warm as And so the Baton was Passed(そして、バトンは渡された) and really dived into the different forms a family can take.