July 2, 2012


by Robert James Russell
103 pages, Kindle edition

Review by Marc Nash

Aokigahara, an almost never-ending sprawl of woods (the Sea of Trees of the title), where the Japanese take themselves off to die at their own hand. It is the place where suicides go, knowing they are unlikely to ever be found, and never to be disturbed in their lonely final act.

Junko and her American boyfriend Bill are searching the expanse for clues to the resting place of Junko's sister Izumi. Interspersed in alternate chapters are the tales of other visitors to the woods who had no intention of ever making it out. The tone is lyrical, elegiac. Bill is a somewhat reluctant passenger, his eyes always searching for a lustful outcome with his girlfriend, his cultural difference struggling to grasp her sensibilities. She believes she can find the needle in the woodstack, he reasons only the unlikelihood of mathematical probability in such a vast area as this.

Junko is after that well known Western conceit 'closure'. But not as we understand it, but to preserve the secret shared with her sister as to the reason behind her suicide. Japanese ghosts are trapped with their unshared secrets. If Junko can find her, then she will be able to lay the restless spirit to rest. What the reader comes to see slowly in the parallel tales of other suicides, is the ghosts that existed while they were still alive. Ghosts and secrets within families and relationships and inabilities to live up to Japan's codes of honour and cultural expectation, that help push them all over the edge into seeking death as a release.

Even though I guessed both elements of the ending before I reached it in the text, this didn't really diminish my enjoyment of what is a quite eloquent book to luxuriate in and be swept away into an ever receding sea of trees.

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