HOW DO YOU LIVE? by Genzaburo Yoshino, translated by Bruno Navasky, Algonquin Young Readers, Oct. 26, 2021, Hardcover, $17.95 (ages 10 and up)
Genzaburo Yoshino’s How Do You Live? follows a teenage boy as he navigates friendship and the loss of his father.
How Do You Live? is narrated in two voices. The first belongs to Copper, 15, who after the death of his father must confront inevitable and enormous change, including his own betrayal of his best friend. In between episodes of Copper’s emerging story, his uncle writes to him in a journal, sharing knowledge and offering advice on life’s big questions as Copper begins to encounter them. Over the course of the story, Copper, like his namesake Copernicus, looks to the stars, and uses his discoveries about the heavens, earth, and human nature to answer the question of how he will live. —Synopsis provided by Algonquin Young Readers
How Do You Live? was first published in Japan in 1937. This latest edition is the first English-language translation of what is considered a crossover classic for young readers. The book is so beloved in Japan that Academy Award–winning animator Hayao Miyazaki has announced plans to emerge from retirement to make it the basis of a final film.
How Do You Live? reads like a classic. It transcends time, feeling young and old at the same time. There’s a formality to it that comes with the time period it was written as well as the culture, and, to some degree, the translation itself. And yet, Copper’s experiences could occur today as they did in the 1930s.
The real standout moments in the novel are the interactions between Copper and his friends. These sections move quickly and have real heart.
I found the sections from the uncle’s point of view a little less inviting. There were times where I was swept away and others where I found myself skimming his philosophical meanderings.
Author Genzaburo Yoshino tells this story through a circuitous route, sometimes using a story within a story to explain his story. Once you get used to it, it works, but it threw me off at first.
How Do You Live? is a quiet, introspective novel unlike anything else I’ve ever read. And after reading it, I’m even more curious as to where Hayao Miyazaki will go with it.
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