Tokyo Fiancée by Amélie Nothomb, translated by Alison Anderson
Referred to on the front flap as “highly autobiographical,” this slim story proves to be an addictive quick read. The protagonist Amélie (who is not so unlike the author Amélie) returns to Japan where she was born to Belgian parents and spent part of her childhood. Now 20, she arrives in Tokyo and almost immediately begins to tutor a young man in French. Rinri, at first shy and linguistically challenged (surely linked characteristics), turns out to be the 19-year-old only son of extremely wealthy – not to mention generous – parents. He’s also intelligent, sweet, caring, and rather handsome to boot. Two young, curious people … can an affair be far off?
But this is definitely not your usual mushy love story – it’s also got quite a bit of ‘portrait of an artist as a young (wo)man’ seamlessly woven in. While she greatly appreciates Rinri’s endless kindnesses and attentions, our Amélie is a quirky free-thinker (who can climb mountains with near-superhuman ease!) who can’t quite disassociate marriage with “platitudes, just like the contract that defines it,” and prefers instead the concept of engagement which “contains the idea of a gage, a pledge.” Plain and simple, she’s just not ready to get hitched …
In sparse, finely-tuned language (even in translation), Nothomb offers a lasting glimpse of two disparate young souls who could have been old soulmates. Filling just 152 short pages, she manages to create a wise, untraditional, touching tale about first love … as she writes at book’s end, “[i]nfinitely more beautiful and noble than some silly love story.” Sure words indeed.
Published: 2009 (United States)