Review: A Rabbit's Eyes
Title: A Rabbit's Eyes
Author: Haitani Kenjirou
Genre: Fiction (Japanese)
Read: 16th Nov 2005
Comments: I was randomly looking through the Japanese Lit section at Kinokuniya when I picked this up. The story of an inexperienced though extremely earnest young elementary school teacher in a bad part of Kobe who sets out to turn the homeroom from hell into a class of little angels; this book is quite a tear-jerker.
The story is set on 'the wrong side of the tracks' at a dirty and neglected elementary school situated right next door to a garbage disposal plant. Most of the students are the children of the disposal plant workers and they live and play amidst the filth and squalor of the plant; catching rats and pigeons, scrapping with each other, and sometimes scamming the other students for money to buy food when Dad gambles or drinks away his paycheck. The view this book offers is a far cry from the spic-and-span, regimented image most people have of Japanese schools.
The story begins with young Miss Kotani taking the reins of a first grade classroom only to retreat to the teachers room before the end of the day in tears, after a student named Tetsuzo kills the pet frog the children were raising for a nature project. Although terrified of the boy (who later attacks her and one of his classmates as well) she is determined not to see him as a bad child and with the help of a gruff but lovable senior teacher Mr. Adachi (known as the Yakuza teacher); she sets out to befriend him and the other disposal plant children.
Over the course of the book she becomes close to the plant children, by listening to them and treating them with respect where previous teachers had thought of them as human garbage and refused to allow them to help at meal times for fear they would contaminate the school lunches. She shares their lives and learns that even the seemingly bizarre and uncommunicative Tetsuzo (he rarely says more than yeah, no or uh-huh) has something to offer in the form of an encyclopaedic knowledge of flies (which he breeds at home).
Although the characters are cliched, the dialogue rather contrived (or perhaps just badly translated), and the plot as a whole sappy in the extreme, there's no denying that this is a very touching, heart-warming, and affirming book that will have you in tears for pages at a time. I recommend it highly to anyone who wants to have a good cry.
Quote: "I'd rather have chocolate than sincerity."
PS: re-edited to gel with the new format