Lion Cross Point by Masatsugu Ono

If you aren’t aware of Two Lines Press, you best pay attention.

The publisher’s latest offering is Lion Cross Point, acclaimed Japanese author Masatsugu Ono’s first to be translated into English. It’s a thin but deceptively heady book about a 10-year-old boy’s solo journey from Tokyo to his mother’s ancestral home in rural Japan to stay with a relative, possibly for good.

At first, with the liberal use of abbreviated words sprinkled throughout the dialogue (“ya” is a noticeable culprit), the translation might seem a little clunky. But as the truth of what brought Takeru to the humble seaside village is slowly disclosed, those nagging bits vanish to reveal a mesmeric fusion of fable, ghost story and haunting depiction of family trauma.

The details of Takeru’s upsetting past — his family’s ant-infested apartment in Tokyo, living in fear of his absentee mother’s violent boyfriend, carrying the burden of caring for his mentally and physically disabled brother — are shocking, but never overplayed. What’s more, it’s the shifting relationship between Takeru’s shameful memories of what transpired and his gradual adjustment to the kindhearted people and landscapes of his mysterious new surroundings that makes the novel both unsettling and quietly moving.

Be forewarned. Angus Turvill’s translation of Ono’s prose is spare. The line between what’s real and what’s imaginary (or dead) in this novel is blurred. Not much actually happens in Lion Cross Point.

But the book’s import, though subtle, is undeniably there. It’s a mournful, but ultimately uplifting portrait of a boy trying to make sense of his seemingly shattered world in order to create a stronger, more hopeful future.


Originally ran in the San Francisco Chronicle (April 27, 2018)

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