Gilbert Silvester, a journeyman lecturer on beard fashions, wakes up from deep sleep and recalls a dream that his wife was unfaithful to him.
Silvester does something strange: he runs away – almost immediately, irrationally, inexplicably - for Japan.
In Tokyo he stumbles across the travel writings of the great Japanese poet Matsuo Basho. It is the middle of this chaos in his life that he discovers his purpose: a pilgrimage in the footsteps of the great poet Basho to see the moon rise over the pine islands of Matsushima.
The story take a fascinating turn as Silvester falls into step with another pilgrim - a young Japanese student called Yosa.
They travel together across Basho's disappearing Japan, one in search of his perfect ending and the other the new beginning that will give his life meaning.
A breathtaking work
The Pine Islands is a breathtaking work. It is a serene, playful, profoundly moving story of the transformations we seek and the ones we find along the way.
Marion Poschmann, award-winning German poet and novelist, appears in full from in The Pine Islands. Translated from German by Jen Calleja, the book wowed critics and was in the shortlist for the Man Booker International prize.
The novel delves into how the two of them - Yosa and Silvester - use their texts as guidebooks to wander Japan: Yosa, to find the perfect place to end his life, and Gilbert, to find enlightenment.
The Pine Islands is beautiful in the way it brings mirrors, leaves, and trees as recurring motifs, yet the story wanders in awe and distraction, suggesting that poetry, travel, and companionship are all worth undertaking for the experience of exploration.
“Learning to die,” Gilbert muses. “The journey that serves to distance oneself from everything, in order to get closer to something, was nothing more than a contemplation of the space that resulted from the journey itself.”
This holiday season read this stunning work to know how one can undertake a journey of self-fulfillment.
Ahmad Nazir is a UAE-based freelancer writer