Hiromi Goto’s The Kappa Child
Red Deer Press, 2001

The Kappa Child is definitely the Hiromi Goto novel that I’ll be recommending most often, although I’m starting to get the feeling that this author is going to be of the sort that I enjoy so solidly that I end up most vehemently recommending whichever of her works I’ve read most recently. And, yes, you probably knew I was going to say this, but she has joined my MRE list.

(On Saturday I’ll be posting about the absolutely wonder+ful Half World, which was the book of hers that I was sure I’d be recommending most often until I finished reading The Kappa Child today, and had my reader’s interest engaged so freshly once more. Both are in print and seem more readily available than some of her earlier works.)

Here are the things I especially enjoyed about The Kappa Child:

1. Element of the fantastic (Kappa for the win!) which permeates the tale with a delicate and powerful energy.

Water is the source and water is the end. Kappa lives are seeped in our understanding of this bond. In pools, quiet shaded in the forest deeps. In trickster rivers where children are received. In cold, cavernous lakes from which the mountains grow. Kappa know that Kappa life is bound to water.”

2. The narrator’s sense of irony; it’s sharp and matter-of-fact, but echoes of hopefulness resound, even in the presence of despair. (Delicious.)

“Not that I would ever consider suicide. I can make a tragedy out of my personal life without having to die.”

3. Observations that strike the mark solidly without being heavy-handed. (The kind that just feel true, but don’t make your brain hurt?)

“Knowing that being grown up was no swell place to be means that you are grown up enough to notice. And you can’t go back from there. You have to forge another route, draw your own map.”

4. A love of reading and use of it to make sense of the world. (She keeps her copy of Little House on the Prairie tucked down her shirt.) [Note: Erin, I’m looking at you!]

“We’d get to listen to Dad doing it to Okasan, much like Laura and her sister must have. She never mentioned it in the book, though. Maybe her parents were quieter than ours. But I couldn’t imagine any child sleeping through those intense graspings and clutching sighs. I glared at the beds, my baby sisters still sleeping back to back, my short fingers twisting with each other.”

5. A love of pyjamas and kimchi.

‘I like my job. I like my library card. I have enough money for cucumbers and movies and I put a little cash aside in an empty one-gallon kimchi jar for something special. I haven’t decided what, yet. I must admit, sometimes I do choose pyjamas that are just a bit hoity-toity in price, but you only live once. Some people worry about being in an accident and found wearing tatty underwear. I only want to be found in a pair of pyjamas, preferably a nice silk job.’

But, as with A Chorus of Mushrooms, it’s the relationships that stand out in this storyteller’s work. Particularly the family relationships, blood family and chosen family. But also the relationships between different aspects of the story itself. For instance, the way that the Kappa parts of the story mesh with the other parts (so skillfully managed).

But that’s actually, I think, a bit misleading, because what really stands out about The Kappa Child is not its parts at all, not even exactly the way that those ‘parts’ interconnect, but the novel itself, complete, as a whole. “It’s a bad sign, don’t you think. How we develop, not by growing, but by splitting.” I’ve pulled this quote from one of the Kappa segments of the novel, but remove the italics and the sentence fits perfectly with another aspect of the story as well.

Hiromi Goto‘s storytelling is holistic and it’s infused with a definition of feminism that seems to nestle cozily with my own; it makes a perfect read for the Women Unbound Challenge and that’s the excuse I used to read it, but it would also make a wonder+ful choice for the Once Upon a Time Reading Challenge, with its folklore, mythic and fantasy elements.

The Kappa Child pulls many other favourite reads into my reading memory. Like, Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Caroline (as poignant, but less harsh), Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy (another sorta-sassy narrator although, relatively speaking, his is a more conventional coming-of-age-ish tale), Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness (for the struggle to define oneself), and Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water (because sometimes magic not only “just happens” but “just is”).

Do try it: I think it’s well worth the reading time! (It also won the 2001 Tiptree Award and there is a lovely description of it on their website, though there are some very general spoiler-y bits in too.)