The Thorn Puller
RECIPIENT OF THE SAKUTARO HAGIWARA PRIZE AND THE MURASAKI SHIKIBU PRIZE
Caught between two cultures, award-winning author Hiromi Ito tackles subjects like aging, death, and suffering with dark humor, illuminating the bittersweet joys of being alive.
The first novel to appear in English by award-winning author Hiromi Ito explores the absurdities, complexities, and challenges experienced by a woman caring for her two families: her husband and daughters in California and her aging parents in Japan. As the narrator shuttles back and forth between these two starkly different cultures, she creates a powerful and entertaining narrative about what it means to live and die in a globalized society.
Ito has been described as a “shaman of poetry” because of her skill in allowing the voices of others to flow through her. Here she enriches her semi-autobiographical novel by channeling myriad voices drawn from Japanese folklore, poetry, literature, and pop culture. The result is a generic chimera—part poetry, part prose, part epic—a unique, transnational, polyvocal mode of storytelling. One throughline is a series of memories associated with the Buddhist bodhisattva Jizo, who helps to remove the “thorns” of human suffering.
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"The Thorn Puller is a masterpiece... a novel about some of literature’s greatest themes—love, human connection, death, and the meaning of suffering."
"A brilliantly poetic translation . . . explored with biting humor and sharp wit."
"In Ito’s literary vision, life unfolds more as a stream of language than a series of plot points. With each phase of life she records, Ito shows how language emerges from the rituals of social reproduction that mark the coming and going of generations, from childbirth to eldercare. "
"A strong affirmation of life. Working collaboratively with the author, Jeffrey Angles, a recognized poet in both English and Japanese, has done a wonderful job translating this work. Ito is a poet of some renown... “Sometimes I dare to imagine I’m an independent woman,” says the narrator. Despite all the forces clamoring for her attention, she is, and that is both the strength and appeal of this novel."
"Overflowing and contradictory, worn down with fatigue, yet brimming with energy, The Thorn Puller combines a confessional story of a woman dealing with family commitments in two countries with vibrant excursions into Japanese folklore and history."
"With ruthless honesty and wicked humor, Ito exposes the frustration and inconvenience of being a caregiver, juxtaposing it with the sorrow of watching a loved one deteriorate."
“Poet Ito makes her English-language fiction debut with a lyrical account of a woman caught between two cultures and her family’s demands … Fans of Japanese literature will enjoy this impressionistic project."
"Ito's chameleonic prose confronts mortality, cultural conflicts, religious comforts, and waning relationships, embellished with all manner of welcoming, unfiltered, surprisingly humorous honesty about the universally quotidian, from pimple-popping to good sex."
"The Thorn Puller is a beautiful work, sad and soothing all at once. It is a brave work, as Hiromi Ito shares so much of her life with readers. It carries readers into a mystical world of Japanese folklore, classical literature, and myth. At the same time, it is remarkably contemporary, reminding us all of our own frailties and strengths."
"A glorious, immersive read, packed with laugh-out-loud moments and the kind of reflections that anyone who has married across cultures will recognize."
"Absurdly comedic and heartbreaking... The Thorn Puller is an enjoyable and affecting narrative about the meaning of living and aging in our globalized era."
"With frank, humorous prose that sinuously morphs into the musical cadence of poetry, The Thorn Puller tackles subjects like aging, death, and suffering from a transnational perspective that also illuminates the bittersweet joy of being alive."
"With a great deal of arresting material, The Thorn Puller is a fascinating piece of work."
"The Thorn Puller is a benchmark book. Some reviews compare Hiromi Ito to Haruki Murakami and Yoko Tawada, but make no mistake, Ito is her own person, with her own style, and she sets her own standard for storytelling that will be a measure for aspiring authors."
"Expansive and brilliantly crafted... I was enthralled by The Thorn Puller for its melodic, mesmerising voice, for the wisdom it imparted, and Ito’s inescapable creative genius."
“The sparks of humor fly as Japanese medieval narrative and Judeo-Christian culture collide in modern-day domestic disputes. Ito may have written this book in prose, but we never forget that she’s a poet. There is a special music even in the complaints, scolding, arguments, phone conversations, and gossipy moments. As the narrative unfolds, Ito draws not only upon voices of her family members and others around her, she gathers in countless voices, including those of the dead. And how wonderful to find the rhythm of the Japanese reproduced so marvelously in this translation!”
—Yoko Tawada, author of The Emissary
“Ito’s work, which has long drawn us in, reaches a crescendo here, working off a base in fractured daily life: minefields of love and hate, frailty and death, identities and languages heard and unheard, a clash of cultures and religions in the context of the day by day. And all of this she sets against deep images of Japanese lore and literature, ancient and immediately modern, prose transformed into poetry: a contemporary master at the height of her many long-honed powers.”
—Jerome Rothenberg, editor of the poetry anthology Technicians of the Sacred
“When she was young, Hiromi Ito wrote about sex, menstruation, and childbirth. Later she wrote about child-rearing, affairs, and menopause. In The Thorn Puller she has written about parental caregiving and aging. Poets are amazing—their experiences become art, and what’s more, Itō has created a completely original literary style, which no one could imitate even if they tried. The Thorn Puller is a great achievement.”
—Chizuko Ueno, author of The Modern Family in Japan