(52 Hertz no Kujira Tachi)
by 町田 そのこ (Sonoko Machida)
Author: 町田 そのこ (Sonoko Machida)
Japanese Level: JLPT N3~N2
Genre: Slice of life, drama, LGBTQ+
English Summary (translation by Japanese Talk Online)
The 52-hertz whale is the only whale in the world that produce a song so high-pitch other whales can’t hear it. Nothing it sings reaches them, and nothing they sing reaches it. It has been described as the “world’s loneliest whale”.
Kiko, a woman who was exploited by her family her whole life, and a young boy whose abusive mother calls an “insect”. Both need love from loneliness, betrayed by their loved ones, these two meet and a new story of the soul is born.
Why You Should Read 52ヘルツのクジラたち
52-Hertz Whales won first place in the 2021 Japan Booksellers’ Award and was my favorite book of 2023.
This novel was incredibly easy to read, both on a linguistic level and a story level. Each chapter had me wanting to know what happens next and I stormed through the whole thing in a week.
The narrative follows Kiko, who moves to a sleepy seaside town in Oita where she strikes up the interest of the nosy locals who want to work out why she’s there. While there she comes across a neglected child who she takes into her home. Each chapter jumps from present day to the past until everything comes together and you find out why Kiko moved from Tokyo to this town, and why she took in and wants to protect this child she doesn’t know.
This novel talks about child abuse, domestic abuse, and suicide. It’s, thankfully, not graphic when depicting these scenes, but it is heart-wrenching, so if you don’t want to read about abuse then give this book a miss.
Why Japanese Learners Should Read 52ヘルツのクジラたち
As I mentioned, this is an incredibly easy book to read. The subject matter and some vocabulary can be difficult, but Japanese is so well written that I would say even advanced N3 level learners can read this.
It exposes you to a lot of vocabulary that you’ll likely come across in daily life here, especially if you read or watch the news.
I loved 52-Hertz Whales and recommend everyone read it. I didn’t know what to expect when I picked it up and was pleasantly surprised. This was an emotional roller coaster with an inspiring story and hope despite past trauma. The writing was good and every chapter was captivating.
This is also one of the few Japanese novels that doesn’t have an incredibly slow build up, but still has those satisfying Japanese polt twists at the end.
And the movie for it comes out in March 2023!
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