Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness was such a lovely book although when I first read the blurb my reaction was 'yikes!' A 41-year-old married librarian and mother of one, falls for a 17-year-old boy. I almost gave it a pass but it's a Europa Edition so I had to have a closer look. This is Elena Ferrante's publisher after all! I decided to sample it on my Kindle and then I just couldn't stop.
"It began at the library."
Jennifer Tseng writes exquisitely. I was immediately sucked into Mayumi's island world: her work at the library, the quirky colleagues and patrons, her 4-year-old daughter Maria and even her aloof husband, Var. Into her small world steps a never named young man and she becomes completely obsessed with him. Don't be turned off by this taboo love affair because Tseng handles it with elegance and grace. The result is a beautiful novel about two lost souls (bookworms in fact) who unexpectedly become lovers, meeting once a week on Fridays at a cabin in the woods.
Mayumi and her lover's lives are enriched because of their liaison even though they don't talk much about themselves. They discuss and share their love of books. While this is going on, Mayumi slowly starts to develop a friendly relationship with the boy's mother, Violet, who seems to know nothing about the affair. She's also a reader and they meet and discuss Elena Ferrante's books among others. Through all this, Mayumi struggles with her moral compass and her desires.
As you can guess this is a book for book lovers but it's also a book about life and personal growth. I don't want to give away what happens next but let me just say that it was heartbreaking but beautiful. One of the best books I've read this year. Mayumi will certainly stay with me.
"He smiled the family smile of happiness and pain. I smiled too, a smile that has taken some time to leave me, a smile that I can still retrieve in full."