my review of My Beautiful Shadow by Radhika Jha

My Beautiful Shadow isn’t a thick book but perfectly formed and beautifully crafted. The novel is set in Japan, populated by all Japanese characters. I am deeply impressed by author Radhika Jha, an Indian and modern nomad who lived in Japan for quite few years. She created a believable world that so far removed from her own.

The story of ‘I’, Kayo, a Japanese house-wife turned shopholic, take place in the 80s when the economy is booming and consumption – over-consumption, rather, grips the whole nation. Kayo is a plain Jane, blessed with a pair of super large breasts. Assisted by this asset, she is lucky enough to meet a smart boy Ryu who then gets a good job at a bank. From a broken family, Kayo manages to secure the relationship and gets married to the boyfriend and soon becomes a house-wife with babies. Her role model is the impeccably school friend Tomoko. To satisfy her obsession for shopping and brand products, she begins to run risks. Bored by her empty life, she perhaps also looks for some thrilling experiences and an identity of her own.

I like this unusual theme – not another love story.

The opening is very gripping.

I have a secret. I belong to a club. You can see its members everywhere, in Ginza, in Marounouchi, in Aoyama and Omotesando – all the very best addresses in town. It is a very big club, easily the biggest in Tokyo, in japan, maybe in all the world. But it is not a famous club. You don’t have to fill any forms to join it. It doesn’t have a dress code or a rule book. Not even a name…………….There is, however, one restriction on membership to my club: only women may belong. Men say ladies cannot keep a secret. But it is the men who cannot. My club is the biggest, best kept secret among all of Tokyo’s secrets.

The prose is sharp and crystal clear and her observation of the Japanese society spot on. For example, she describes how the neighbours keep an eye on each other, therefore making the Japanese society very safe.

My only criticism is that other characters, such as her husband and mother, could be better developed. The husband Ryu is a typical salary man, spending most of his time at his bank. He feels like a type rather than a vivid individual. And the mother, who prostitutes herself to raise her children after the death of her husband, must be an interesting and complex woman. But her portrait is too sketchy for us readers to develop a full picture of her.

Overall, it is a charming book, which fully demonstrated the author’s descriptive power and rich imagination. I enjoyed it immensely.

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