Sentaro has failed. He has a criminal record, drinks too much, and his dream of becoming a writer is just a distant memory. With only the blossoming of the cherry trees to mark the passing of time, he spends his days in a tiny confectionery shop selling dorayaki, a type of pancake filled with sweet bean paste.
But everything is about to change.
Into his life comes Tokue, an elderly woman with disfigured hands and a troubled past. Tokue makes the best sweet bean paste Sentaro has ever tasted. She begins to teach him her craft, but as their friendship flourishes, social pressures become impossible to escape and Tokue’s dark secret is revealed, with devastating consequences.
Sweet Bean Paste is a moving novel about the burden of the past and the redemptive power of friendship. Translated into English for the first time, Durian Sukegawa’s beautiful prose is capturing hearts all over the world.
“I believed that a life has no value if a person is not a useful member of society. I was convinced that humans are born in order to be of service to the world and to others.”
Sentaro works day in, day out in a confectionery shop. When we first meet him, he makes dorayaki, but it’s pretty terrible and business isn’t great. Then one day, an old lady called Tokue offers to help Sentaro in making the red bean paste required for dorayaki. She’s persistant and Sentaro eventually agrees, soon discovering that her sweet bean paste is better than any he’s ever had before.
This story is nice and full of heart warming moments and it’s a story of self discovery and acceptance. I liked the plot and the simplicity of the story, as is typical in Japanese writing. I particularly liked the character of Tokue who I could picture in my mind very clearly.
“People’s lives never stay the same colour forever. There are times when the colour of life changes completely.”
This is a short and sweet read that I probably would recommend to you, but it wasn’t one that blew me away. I didn’t find the story to be particularly poignant and I didn’t feel quite the same level of emotion and connection as I have with other Japanese literature.
Overall rating: “Sweet Bean Paste” is a wholesome story of unlikely friendship. I loved the simplicity of this Japanese tale, but I didn’t finish this book with a any strong feelings for it. This was a 3 star read for me.