Kazu is dead. Born in Fukushima in 1933, the same year as the Japanese Emperor, his life is tied by a series of coincidences to the Imperial family and has been shaped at every turn by modern Japanese history. But his life story is also marked by bad luck, and now, in death, he is unable to rest, doomed to haunt the park near Ueno Station in Tokyo.
... glorious ... Yu weaves her novel out of overheard conversations, radio and train announcements, intermittent memories of a life spent mostly away from family, glimpses of the park’s history. Giles’s translation is supple throughout. Kazu’s painstaking attention to those in the camp — their appearances, their hopes and disappointments — is perhaps a way to atone for the regret he feels for never being there for his wife and children while alive.
Don’t misunderstand this magical flourish; though often discomfitingly dreamlike, the book is a critique of damnably real power ... Despite the book’s surreal pitch, it’s capable of eliciting real feeling ... Why do some live for decades and others perish in their youth? Why are some born to inherit a throne, others destined to inhabit a shack? Miri’s novel is too fleet and elusive to offer an explanation, or maybe it’s just clever enough to understand there’s no real answer ... Though locked into the specific geography of one Tokyo park, the novel telescopes from the 17th century to the modern day. This will mean more to the reader with some grasp of that country’s history, but nevertheless the novel yields to those of us less versed in those particulars. Tokyo Ueno Station eloquently indicts the myth of Japan as an awesome power of cultural and economic might ... Though set in Japan, Tokyo Ueno Station is a novel of the world we all share — not what we expect from a ghost story but frightening all the same.
... a relatively slim novel that packs an enormous emotional punch, thanks to Yu's gorgeous, haunting writing and Morgan Giles' wonderful translation ... The circumstances behind Kazu's death are revealed late in the book, and they're almost unbearable to read. But while Yu's writing is unsparing, never letting the reader forget the enormities of poverty and loss, it's also quite beautiful, particularly when Kazu describes his current, liminal state ... Kazu's personal pain and his poverty are inextricable from each other, and Yu does a magnificent job exploring the effects of all kinds of loss on the human psyche. Tokyo Ueno Station is a stunning novel, and a harsh, uncompromising look at existential despair.