Rainbirds opens with the protagonist, Ren Ishida, clutching an urn containing the ashes of his beloved sister. Keiko Ishida was the victim of a vicious attack in a small Japanese town where she taught in a cram school.
As the story progresses, endless questions plow through Ren’s head. Who killed Keiko, and why? Was she seeing someone? Does he really know his sister?
Unexpectedly, Ren steps into the shoes of his elder sister – taking over her English classes at the school and the room that she rented in the home of a local politician. As he tries to fill the void left behind by Keiko, he slowly pieces together her life in the last seven years that they had not seen each other. Secrets that the siblings had kept from each other are unveiled as Ren meanders through small-town life and flashbacks from the past.
Goenawan did an excellent job building the scenes in this immersive thriller set in a fictional Japanese town. It was easy to feel for the lonely Ren who seems to have lost his direction in life without his sister whom he looked up to and adored. The conflicted young man, who’s self-indulgent yet empathetic, is forced by circumstances to face up to his feelings.
While Ren takes centre stage in Rainbirds, I find myself drawn to the teenager, Rio Nakajima, who he refers to as “Seven Stars” after the eponymous cigarettes that she smokes. Rio is the bright catalyst that seduces with her raw honesty and vulnerability. A fitting description of Rio by Ren:
Deep down, I’d known she was serious about me. And I couldn’t deny I was drawn to her. It was completely different from what I felt toward Nae. If my relationship with Nae was gentle and uplifting, then what I had with Seven Stars was the complete opposite. Things between us were intense and destructive, like a raging storm.
Part thriller, part coming-of-age tale, Rainbirds takes the reader on a mesmerising journey of self-discovery and love in its different forms. The book will be published by Soho Press in March, 2018.