(Nishi no Majo ga Shinda)
by 梨木 香歩 (Kaho Nashiki)
Author: 梨木 香歩 (Kaho Nashiki)
Japanese Level: JLPT N3 ~ N2
Genre: Slice-of-life, drama, family
Amazon Japan (Physical): 西の魔女が死んだ
This book doesn’t seem to be available digitally anywhere.
English Summary (translation by Japanese Talk Online)
Mai’s world will never be the same.
Shortly after entering junior high school Mai is reluctant to go to school, so she spends a month with the witch of the west one early summer. She receives an induction into being a witch from this witch, her mother’s mother, in other words, her beloved grandmother. But the key to being a witch is in deciding things for yourself. Joy, hope, and of course, happiness…
I picked 西の魔女が死んだ (Nishi no Majo ga Shinda) for my February target language book challenge read because the theme was “a book under 200 pages”. This story comes to 183 pages (minus the front pages, bonus story, and afterword) so it was just right! The font is also quite large with short, clear sentences, making it an easy book to finish in a short time. (I’m a slow reader and I finished it in a week.)
But just because it’s short, doesn’t mean the story isn’t fantastic!
Why You Should Read 西の魔女が死んだ
「魔女が倒れた」Mai’s mother tells her after pulling her out of school one rainy day. Right from the start you know something bad has happened, and Mai spends the story remembering the month she spent with her grandmother in the countryside one year because she had stopped going to school. Right from the start you know where the story is heading, yet you can’t stop reading.
Mai is a quarter British on her mother’s side, and her British grandmother speaks perfectly fluent Japanese after marrying a Japanese man and moving to Japan when she was a young woman. (There’s a cute moment when Mai mentions her grandmother knows more vocabulary than her.) But one of the charming parts of this novel is still how British the grandmother behaves. She cooks breakfast with ham, eggs, and toast, she makes tea as soon as someone turns up, as well as other smaller things that reminded me of my British grandmother.
There’s also a few indications of microaggressions against the grandmother which even as a 12-ish-year-old Mai picks up on. It was really refreshing to see those little racist actions being framed as racist because too often Japanese people don’t realize they are being rude. I really appreciated the author made an effort to highlight these actions.
The book is mostly about the relationship between Mai and her grandmother rather than a large emotional or ground-breaking narrative. It’s about a grandmother who wants to help your granddaughter be a functioning human through witch training. The witch training isn’t spells and epic fantasy magic, it’s small, self reflective and you can go either way at the end to say if it were real or not.
There’s also a short second story about Mai after the end of main story, which was fun to read. It was interesting because the Mai in the epilogue is a little older and you can tell in the shift in writing from the main story.
Why Japanese Learners Should Read 西の魔女が死んだ
This is a great novel for anyone who wants a quick and easy book to read. A great first novel or novel for those who want to get back into studying/reading Japanese. Or even a great book to read as a palette cleanser between more challenging books!
This novel is particularly great for practicing/learning JLPT N3 to N2 level Japanese in a natural setting. The conversations between Mai and her grandmother feel very normal and any vocabulary that would be too difficult for Mai (N1/N2 level) come with furigana, making them very easy to look up.
I really enjoyed this novel and was pleasantly surprised by how tight the story was, even if it was simple. And as the title suggests 西の魔女が死んだ (Nishi no Majo ga Shinda) will probably make anyone who is close to their grandparents cry.
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