Book Review – The Phone Box at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina, Lucy Rand

books, reviews

Rating: 4 out of 5.

After my last read, I needed something to lift my spirits and get me back into reading. I started reading Bridget Jones’ Diary as my physical read but I wanted something for work. This is one of those books that I’ve been aware of for some time but never thought I’d get around to reading. Then I found out that I had access to it for free on Audible. So, as usual, I set about listening to it at work during my quieter moments. Would this be the antidote to my last reading experience or would it push me further into a reading slump?

In 2011, over 15,000 people, from the Tōhoku region of Japan, were killed in an earthquake and tsunami. Many families faced losses and people all over the region were mourning their loved ones. The year after the disaster, garden designer Itaru Sasaki opened his wind phone to the public in an attempt to help them grieve. The idea was that people enter the unconnected phone box and hold a one-way conversation with somebody they’ve lost. Sasaki had installed the phone in his garden following the death of his cousin because he felt that the conversations helped him continue to feel connected to his family member.

Since it was opened to the public, thousands of people have visited the garden and a number of replica phones have been installed around the world. The phone box stands as the inspiration for Italian writer, Laura Imai Messina’s, story. Her novel follows Yui, a woman who lost both her mother and young daughter in the tsunami. As soon as Yui hears about the wind phone, she decides to visit it. Though she doesn’t make it into the booth, she meets a fellow mourner. Takeshi is a widower whose young daughter has stopped talking. The pair bond over their grief and begin to spend more time together. Will they be able to help each other work through their bereavements?

So, obviously, this story is interesting enough because of the unique premise but there is so much more to this book than the wind phone. It captures that state of grief where you are lost between states of being. Yui is lost and living under a cloud of grief. She doesn’t want to move on from her past but she cannot continue as she is. The phone box intrigues her but she isn’t ready to take that step. It is through meeting Takeshi that Yui is able to think about moving past her grief. Their friendship gives both of them strength and companionship. It helps them remove some of the darkness from their lives.

A lovely feature of this book are the brief moments before each chapter. They contain short passages connected to one of the characters and their past. These are often moments tied to the person they lost and speak to the idea of memory. As much as this is a book about grief and finding the strength to move on, it is a book about how we remember people. Those connections that never leave us no matter how long it has been. We meet characters who don’t need the wind phone to feel connected to their lost relatives. We see how everyday activities can spark memories.

The novel is a bit of a slow burner but it is brilliant. You really get to know the characters at the heart of the story and learn about their grief. It is well written and beautiful. There are passages about grief and loss that will resonate with many people. It is a book that has plenty to say and plenty to celebrate. The characters we meet are all wonderful and memorable in their own way. You quickly become invested in their journey and happily follow them. This is a charming and sweet books that has humanity and love at its heart.

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