Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan


Set in Japan, written by an Indonesian author who lives in Singapore, this book was known as the new emerging Asian mystery novel that is atmospheric with an amazing writing style. What I stumbled upon instead was a main character who is a wet blanket, a mystery that fails to entertain nor intrigue me, and little to no feel as to what rural Japan feels like.

33026565The story begins with Ren Ishida, a recent English literature graduate who comes to a rural city to clean up his recently deceased sister’s things. In there he manages to get a job, a house, and at the same time tries to “solve” his sister’s death without even trying. He meets many different people who might have something to do with the death, although none of the mystery seems very organic and mostly just related to luck.

I read from many reviews that what they didn’t like about the book was the writing style. I do admit, it’s not the best prose, it’s cold and choppy and its descriptions felt out of place. It tries too hard to be Murakami. However I didn’t really think it was particularly horrible, and that was mainly why I managed to complete this book and not stop midway through and give up.

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What I really didn’t like about this book was its characters. I failed to relate or even remotely like Ren. And sure, you don’t have to like a main character in a book, as long as that character is actually well-written. Unfortunately in Rainbirds, our main character is boring, sleeps around too much, has weird decisions, has a sister complex, and I feel like everything he does is like a stupor and had no real reasoning behind it. Sure, there were times when I felt his sadness for the loss of his beloved sister, or his friendship for Honda, but overall I didn’t really feel like he evoked any emotions or even thoughts like a normal person would.

Other than that the mystery itself felt weak. I never really hated domestic mysteries like these, but I do admit I prefer a more structured, expert kind of mystery that involve policemen or detectives. A mere family member trying to discover someone’s suspected murder feels a little too far-fetched, and the side characters that aided in the main character’s search for the answers behind his sister’s murder was also very one-dimensional and forgettable.

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Overall I was very disappointed in this book. I’m very sad that this book got a lot of attention, only for people to be disappointed, or in the least unentertained. There are better Indonesian authors out there people!!! Just not this one unfortunately.

Share with us your thoughts on this book. Did you like it more than I did? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

  1. I agree with you that it is sad when a new author breaks through because, well, of novelty – and the writing isn’t what you would like.

    It is a wasted opportunity for someone who DID do their work in learning craft in the service of a good idea for a story. When I see someone write a book and do an okay job, knowing that the idea could have had magnificence, I’m disappointed.

    Writing is hard. Writing is work. And writing doesn’t reward just spending time doing it – the writer has to learn, so the reader’s journey is taken into account.

    It depends on what a writer is aiming for, and, from your description, this writer was aiming for something more important than resulted.

    Maybe we scientists have higher standards.

    Liked by 1 person

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