The Forest of Wool and Steel
by Natsu Miyashita
What he experienced that day wasn’t life-changing . . . It was life-making.
Tomura is startled by the hypnotic sound of a piano being tuned in his school. It seeps into his soul and transports him to the forests, dark and gleaming, that surround his beloved mountain village. From that moment, he is determined to discover more.
Under the tutelage of three master piano-tuners – one humble, one cheery, one ill-tempered – Tomura embarks on his training, never straying too far from a single, unfathomable question: do I have what it takes?
Set in small-town Japan, this warm and mystical story is for the lucky few who have found their calling – and for the rest of us who are still searching. It shows that the road to finding one’s purpose is a winding path, often filled with treacherous doubts and, for those who persevere, astonishing moments of revelation.
This is the first of a big stack of beautiful books I won in a Twitter competition run by Hannah Bright at Penguin Random House. I chose to read this one first as I’ve had great experiences with Japanese literature recently and was hoping that author Natsu Miyashita would continue that good streak for me.
Inside its beautiful front cover, “The Forest of Wool and Steel” tells the story of Tomura, a young man who becomes absolutely mesmerized by the sound of a newly tuned piano and decides to dedicate his life to becoming a piano tuner himself.
“I’m not that sociable or friendly, but with a piano I could feel a closeness I lacked with people.”
Tomura is quirky, he’s shy and he doesn’t really fit in, but most importantly to the story, he lacks confidence and rarely believes in himself.
Less plot driven and more observational, the everyday thoughts and actions of Tomura are explored from his first introduction to a piano, right the way through to him becoming a tuning master.
At just over 200 pages, this is a quick read and a simple story, but it’s written beautifully and felt poetic and lyrical at times.
“Inhale the scent of a forest close by. I can smell the earthy fragrance of autumn as night falls, the leaves gently rustling. I can feel the damp air of dusk descending.”
I must admit, I don’t know a lot about pianos and I know absolutely nothing about tuning them, yet the way each chapter was written was so captivating that this didn’t really matter. This book is like a love story for the piano and I’m certain that pianists will enjoy and appreciate this book much more than I could.
I’ve read quite a books by a few Japanese writers recently, and I’ve really enjoyed them all. I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for more work by Natsu Miyashita in the future.
Overall rating: A beautifully written love song to the piano, “The Forest of Wool and Steel” is a truly captivating story. Another piece of Japanese literature that I really enjoyed, it’s 4 stars from me.