erasing clouds

Banana Yoshimoto, Argentine Hag

reviewed by anna battista

After Mitsuko's mother dies, her father suddenly leaves his house and his stonemason's lab to go and live with another woman, Yuri, a figure of fun for the local kids, Mitsuko included. Kids call her the "Argentine Hag", since, well, she's a hag and lives in the Argentine Building where she once used to teach tango lessons. This might sound like a crazy story, but it's actually a sad and beautiful tale by Banana Yoshimoto.

Argentine Hag features all the main themes of Banana Yoshimoto's most famous novels such as Kitchen, N.P. and Lizard, like the contrasts between life and death, but it's less intense and dramatic than her previous works. Indeed, this tender tale is full of hope: by living with Yuri, Mitsuko's father finds another life and a new inspiration, becomes a proper sculptor and builds on the roof of the Argentine Building a colourful mandala that represents the universe. In the meantime, Yuri turns from a hag living in a rotten building into a mythical figure through whom Mitsuko can regain the lost unity of her family.

The book is published only in Japan and includes a Japanese and English text translated by Fumiya Sawa and minimalist drawings and photographs by Yoshimoto Nara, one of the most influential artists to emerge from Japan during the pop art movement of the nineties. In the drawings of Argentine Hag, Mitsuko looks like a sadder version of Nara's irresistible (apparently) innocent little girls from Slash with a knife. Packaged in a beautiful silver slipcase and prismatic cover, this is not an ordinary book, it's a charming piece of art.


Issue 16, October 2003

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