Book Review: The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida by Clarissa Goenawan

The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida…

About the Book:

A bewitching novel set in contemporary Japan about the mysterious suicide of a young woman.

Miwako Sumida is dead.

Now those closest to her try to piece together the fragments of her life. Ryusei, who has always loved her, follows Miwako’s trail to a remote Japanese village. Chie, Miwako’s best friend, was the only person to know her true identity — but is now the time to reveal it? Meanwhile, Fumi, Ryusei’s sister, is harbouring her own haunting secret.

Together, they realise that the young woman they thought they knew had more going on behind her seemingly perfect façade than they could ever have dreamed.

My Thoughts:

This was a really interesting novel. I was quite taken with it and found it hard to put down. It’s an absorbing story about a young woman named Miwako Sumida and how three of her closest friends try to make peace with her suicide. The novel is split into three parts, with each of these parts offering a different perspective, along with clues as to who Miwako really was, so that by the time you reach the end, a clearer picture of Miwako has emerged.

First, Ryusei, who was in love in with Miwako. Second, Chie, Miwako’s best friend, the one who has known her the longest. And third, and perhaps most curiously, Fumi, Ryusei’s sister, who actually didn’t know Miwako all that well at all, but whose perspective offered a somewhat different and more spiritual outlook. With Ryusei and Chie, the sections are filled with their reminiscences about Miwako, fond memories as well as ones that they recall in a bid to try and piece together the reason why Miwako may have chosen to end her own life. In Chie’s section, she and Ryusei take a pilgrimage together to the mountains in order to visit the place where Miwako ended her life, in a bid to help them both understand what happened. The trip ends up becoming more about the journey and making peace than actually uncovering any real answers. Fumi’s section is entirely different and it takes some time to establish the connections at all. When they do reveal themselves, you will find yourself quite surprised. As I already mentioned, this section is rather spiritual, it dips into very mystical terrain that might not work for all readers. Personally, I really liked it. It was unique and it offered a sense of closure that would have not otherwise been possible.

The author is an Indonesian born Singaporean and the novel is set in Japan with Japanese characters. My impression, based on the little I know of the more mystical elements of Japanese culture, is that what occurs within Fumi’s section is not necessarily out of the realms of possibility. Or, perhaps it’s completely made up. Either way, I never mind the inclusion of mystical elements within a story, so it all worked for me. This novel was very absorbing and incredibly well written, the way it dipped in and out of the present and the past; and Fumi’s section, how that all played out was rather clever indeed, steering us in several directions prior to the revealing moment. On Fumi, there was a story within the story with this character that I really appreciated. The issues touched on were done so with precision and empathy and Fumi’s experiences, particularly within her night job, opened my eyes to a few specific things that I hadn’t known about Japan.

The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida is above all an intricate character examination of the effects of suicide on those closest to the departed. It was sensitively drawn out and captured the essence of being young in Japan in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Highly recommended and I’ll be looking out for more from this author.


Thanks is extended to Scribe for providing me with a copy of The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida for review.

About the Author:

Clarissa Goenawan is an Indonesian-born Singaporean writer. Her debut novel Rainbirds won the 2015 Bath Novel Award and was shortlisted for three further prizes. Her short stories have won several awards and been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida is her second novel.

The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida
Published by Scribe
Released 29th September 2020

8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida by Clarissa Goenawan

    • I feel like she treated this topic with such care and empathy. It’s a topic I’m wary of and approach quite tentatively but in this entire novel, I never once felt ‘triggered’ if that makes sense. She’s a terrific writer, I’ve since bought her first novel.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Woohoo!!! I’m so glad you enjoyed this one Theresa, I’ve been looking forward to your review. I really enjoyed it too. I’m actually not a huge fan of the mystical, but the way it was introduced and contextualised in this book really worked for me. A good one for the skeptics then, I suppose!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad to hear we are in accord! To me, it seemed in keeping with my impressions on the more mystical aspects of Japanese culture, so perhaps that’s why it worked so well. Isn’t she just a beautiful writer? I really enjoyed it.


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