Amongst the burgeoning number of international titles put out by One World comes Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa translated by Alison Watts, the novel has also garnered attention due to it being adapted in a film version directed by Naomi Kawase. Related in simple prose the story is an engaging and moving human drama that throws together two characters who at first appear to have little in common, one being Sentaro who works at Doraharu where he makes dorayaki, the second being Tokue, an elderly woman who applies to work for him who at first is refused but then after Sentaro samples her delicious dorayaki is taken on. As she begins to teach Sentaro the secrets of how to cook dorayaki her way the past of each character begins to be explained. Sentaro is working at Doraharu paying off debts and has spent time in prison. Tokue carries the enigma of her misshapen hands which begins to arouse the suspicions of some of the customers, one of them Wakana whose character begins to feature more centrally in the second half of the book.
The plot sees the popularity of Doraharu rise and fall, it's future precariously balanced as the two work away to make the perfect dorayaki and make a success of the business which is always under the scrutinous eye of the owner's wife who stops by to check the books, things come to a head when pressure is brought on for Tokue to quit, after her departure it becomes apparent that she was suffering from Hansen's disease and that Tokue was living in a hospice for sufferer's of the disease. Sentaro comes to realize the stigma that has dogged Tokue's life through misguided comprehensions, pointlessly being confined way beyond the possible risk of contagion has long past. Through this coming together Sentaro begins to face up to the things in his own past and Tokue develops a renewed perspective of her life, after eventually quitting Doraharu the pair stay in contact, Sentaro and Wakana visit Tokue at the hospice where more of her past is related. Sweet Bean Paste is both a moving and provoking book with a number of lines of enquiry, both reassuring and elegiac with a broad sense of humanity.
Sweet Bean Paste at One World