Review: Yume by Sifton Tracey Anipare

It is rare that I feel quite so under-qualified to review a book. While I do my best to read widely, I am aware that my interests are niche and among those niches, very British/North American-centric. I have not travelled far beyond Europe and North America, and I don't know as much about other cultures as I should. I feel like I have somewhat filled this gap by reading Yume, a book that does not dumb itself down for its Western readers. At first, I was a bit taken aback by the amount of untranslated Japanese in the book, but I quickly picked up words and phrases based on context in a way that flattered me by making me feel quite clever!

Yume is a story which appears to take place in two settings. In the present, we follow Cybelle, an English teacher living in Japan, as she negotiates the difficulties of being a black Canadian gaiko (foreigner) in a surprisingly xenophobic Japanese society. In a more fantastical world, Akki and Zaniel, a demon and his lacky, work out their quickly souring relationship as it's disrupted by a new Yokai (demon) who, among other things, has a penchant for house-eating. The two story strands converge with fairy tale-like results.

To begin with, I found the present-day narrative much more engaging and easier to read. I happened to be reading this book to the background of the Tokyo Olympics, and was fascinated by the apparent duality presented by the two 'texts'. Cybelle's story of dissatisfaction at work, of being constantly under-appreciated, of difficulty relating with her family, felt much more familiar to me. The fantastical narrative was much harder to follow at first, and while I love a good dream world, there were elements that seemed to be taken straight from my weirdest cheese dreams (one memorable moment was a demon floating off into the air, using his testicles like hot air balloons).

But as I read on, and the stories started to converge, the fantastical stream really grew on me. In my rubbish Western frame of reference, it made me think a bit of American Gods, of the way strange old beings rub up against unfamiliar, newer creations. The last quarter felt like pure fairy tale and delivered a very satisfying conclusion.

While it took me a little while to get into Yume (a fact for which I take full responsibility -- the writing and imagery is excellent throughout), the more I read, the quicker I read, and by the end, I struggled to put it down.

With thanks to the publishers and for an e-advanced review copy.

Yume by Sifton Tracey Anipare is out on October 21st, 2021, and can be pre-ordered here.

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