Copper is a fifteen year old boy coming to understand how much his life is changing (or will need to change) after the recent death of his father. Copper’s uncle provides the moral lessons and life guidance for Copper, generally through writings in a notebook.
This is a very simple book and, as many other reviewers on Goodreads have noted, it is possibly overly didactic. The uncle’s notebook entries (which are more like letters) are full of “this is how a good person behaves” kinds of lessons and almost as directly as that. A modern reader will likely roll their eyes at the directness of this. But …
1) This isn’t so much for the adult reader, interested because of either Neil Gaiman’s name on the cover (he wrote the foreword) or because it is named as the favorite childhood book of a noted anime master. This is for very young readers. And …
2) Is there anything actually wrong with getting these messages across to young readers? Yes, it’s didactic to many of us, but for some readers, subtlety flies over their heads.
3) The lessons and morality here are worth striving toward.
The translation is (presumably) really good because this is very easy to read. In many ways it doesn’t feel specifically Japanese at all – it is universal in its themes – and even the setting only occasionally reminds us where we are.
This is a very easy read and I really appreciated getting a look at a ‘classic’ children’s book from another culture. What would be the equivalent for American readers? Mexican readers? Swedish readers? Kenyan readers?
Looking for a good book? How Do You Live? by Genzaburo Yoshino is considered a classic children’s book in Japan and it’s a powerful morality tale, sometimes a bit overt, but modern, adult readers need to remind themselves who this is written for.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
* * * * * *
How Do You Live?
author: Genzaburo Yoshino
translator: Bruno Navasky
publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
hardcover, 288 pages