The Pine Islands: read an extract

07 April 2020

We’re so excited that Marion Poschmann’sThe Pine Islands, translated by Jen Calleja, is here in paperback. This is a wonderful, short, witty and warm novel was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize and the German Book Prize, won the Berlin Prize for Literature and is an international bestseller. It’s the perfect read if you’re looking for something uplifting and thoughtful.

About the book

When Gilbert wakes one day from a dream that his wife has cheated on him, he flees – immediately and inexplicably – for Tokyo, where he meets a fellow lost soul: Yosa, a young Japanese student clutching a copy of The Complete Manual of Suicide. Together, Gilbert and Yosa set off on a pilgrimage to see the pine islands of Matsushima, one looking for the perfect end to his life, the other for a fresh start.

Playful and profound, The Pine Islands is a beautiful tale of friendship, transformation and acceptance in modern Japan.

Read the opening pages of The Pine Islands below

Get your copy from Amazon or Waterstones.

the pine islands

He’d dreamt that his wife had been cheating on him. Gilbert Silvester woke up distraught. Mathilda’s black hair lay spread out on the pillow next to him, tentacles of a malevolent pitch-black jellyfish. Thick strands of it gently stirred in time with her breathing, creeping towards him. He quietly got out of bed and went into the bathroom, where he stared aghast into the mirror. He left the house without eating breakfast. When he finished work that evening he still felt dumbfounded, almost numb. The dream hadn’t dissipated over the course of the day and hadn’t faded sufficiently for the inane expression ‘dreams are but shadows’ to be applicable. On the contrary, the night’s impressions had become steadily stronger, more conclusive. An unmistakable warning from his unconscious to his naive, unsuspecting ego.

He walked into the hallway, dropped his briefcase theatrically, and confronted his wife. She denied everything. This only confirmed his suspicions. Mathilda seemed different. Unusually fervent. Agitated. Ashamed. She accused him of slipping out early in the morning without saying goodbye. I. Was. Worried. How. Could. You. Endless accusations. A flimsy deflection tactic. As if the blame suddenly lay with him. She had gone too far. He wouldn’t allow it.

He couldn’t recall later on whether he had shouted at her (probably), struck her (surely not) or spat at her (well, really, a little spittle may very well have sprayed from his mouth while he was talking animatedly at her), he had at any rate gathered a few things together, taken his credit cards and his passport and left, walking along the pavement past the house, and when she didn’t come after him and didn’t call out his name, he carried on, somewhat slower at first and then faster, till he reached the next underground station, and disappeared down the steps, one might say in hindsight, as if sleepwalking. He travelled through the city and didn’t get out until he reached the airport.

He spent the night in Terminal B, uncomfortably sprawled across two metal chairs. He kept checking his smartphone. Mathilda hadn’t sent him any messages. His flight was leaving the next morning, the earliest intercontinental flight he could book at short notice.

In the plane en route to Tokyo he drank green tea, watched two samurai films and repeatedly reassured himself that he had not only done everything right, but that his actions had indeed been inevitable, were still inevitable, and would carry on being inevitable, not only according to his personal opinion, but according to world opinion.

He’d retreat. He wouldn’t insist on his rights. He’d make way, for whomever it was. Her boss, the head teacher, a grouchy macho kind of guy. The handsome adolescent who she was allegedly mentoring, a trainee teacher. Or one of those pushy women she teaches with. He was no match for a woman. With a man, time would potentially be on his side. He could wait and see how things developed, ride out the storm until she changed her mind. It stands to reason that the allure of what was forbidden would fade sooner or later. But up against another woman he didn’t stand a chance. Unfortunately, the dream hadn’t been completely clear on this point. Overall, however, the dream had been clear enough. Very clear. As if he had suspected it. He had essentially suspected it. For quite a while actually. Hadn’t she been in a remarkably good mood for the last few weeks? Downright cheerful? And markedly friendly towards him? A diplomatic kind of friendliness that had grown more and more unbearable as time went on, which would have become even more unbearable if he had known what was hiding behind it sooner. But this was how she had managed to lull him into a false sense of security for so long. And he had allowed himself to be lulled, a clear failure on his part. He’d dropped his guard, allowed himself to be disappointed, because his suspicion hadn’t been limitless.