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Hikikomori and the Rental Sister

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<div> Spare, erotic, and original, this novel celebrates the human capacity to find beauty and meaning in life, even after great sorrow. </div>

Customer Review Snapshot

3.8 out of 5 stars
34 total reviews
5 stars
5
4 stars
20
3 stars
7
2 stars
1
1 star
1
Most helpful positive review
Jeff Backhaus has crafted a unique story around "hikikomori," the Japanese word for someone who completely withdraws from the world by isolating himself physically and emotionally. The world of Thomas and Silke Tessler changed forever when their only child was hit and killed by a car while Thomas was caring for him. Thomas' subsequent guilt and grief resulted in a self-imposed exile in a dead-bolted room within their home. Megumi, a young Japanese immigrant dealing with her own challenges, is the "rental sister" who is hired by Silke to bring Thomas "back to life." This debut novel requires a certain suspension of disbelief; at some point after several years, Thomas' grief becomes self indulgent at best, if not indicative of a psychosis. There is also an episode with a neighbor that doesn't seem to add to our knowledge of the situation or the characters. That said, I will read any book that Algonquin publishes due to the superlative quality of their fiction. I have been a fan of Algonquin books since they were published in a small, distinctive form. Jeff Backhaus is an author to watch and Algonquin is a publisher to treasure.

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Spare, erotic, and original, this novel celebrates the human capacity to find beauty and meaning in life, even after great sorrow.
Thomas Tessler, devastated by a tragedy, has cloistered himself in his bedroom and shut out the world for the past three years. His wife, Silke, lives in the next room, but Thomas no longer shares his life with her, leaving his hideout only in the wee hours of the night to buy food at the store around the corner from their Manhattan apartment. Isolated, withdrawn, damaged, Thomas is hikikomori.
 
 Desperate to salvage their life together, Silke hires Megumi, a young Japanese woman attuned to the hikikomori phenomenon, to lure Thomas back into the world. In Japan Megumi is called a “rental sister,” though her job may involve much more than familial comforts. As Thomas grows to trust Megumi, a deepening and sensual relationship unfolds. But what are the risks of such intimacy? And what must these three broken people surrender in order to find hope?
 
 Revelatory and provocative, Hikikomori and the Rental Sister tears through the emotional walls of grief and delves into the power of human connection to break through to the waiting world outside.

Specifications

Publisher
HighBridge Company
Book Format
Other
Original Languages
ENG
Number of Pages
390
Author
Jeff Backhaus
ISBN-13
9781611749182
Publication Date
January, 2013
Assembled Product Dimensions (L x W x H)
5.88 x 5.06 x 0.63 Inches
ISBN-10
1611749182

Customer Reviews

5 stars
5
4 stars
20
3 stars
7
2 stars
1
1 star
1
Most helpful positive review
1 customers found this helpful
Jeff Backhaus has craf...
Jeff Backhaus has crafted a unique story around "hikikomori," the Japanese word for someone who completely withdraws from the world by isolating himself physically and emotionally. The world of Thomas and Silke Tessler changed forever when their only child was hit and killed by a car while Thomas was caring for him. Thomas' subsequent guilt and grief resulted in a self-imposed exile in a dead-bolted room within their home. Megumi, a young Japanese immigrant dealing with her own challenges, is the "rental sister" who is hired by Silke to bring Thomas "back to life." This debut novel requires a certain suspension of disbelief; at some point after several years, Thomas' grief becomes self indulgent at best, if not indicative of a psychosis. There is also an episode with a neighbor that doesn't seem to add to our knowledge of the situation or the characters. That said, I will read any book that Algonquin publishes due to the superlative quality of their fiction. I have been a fan of Algonquin books since they were published in a small, distinctive form. Jeff Backhaus is an author to watch and Algonquin is a publisher to treasure.
Most helpful negative review
1 customers found this helpful
The Rental Sister by J...
The Rental Sister by Jeff Backhaus; (2*) Backhaus has written a novel about an intimate and private conflict. The protagonist and narrator, Tom, has retreated into his room following a tragedy. His relationship with his wife is strained to the point where she is willing to try anything to get him to rejoin the living. This is where Megumi comes in. A woman whose history allows her a different perspective on what has happened to Tom and thus knows (?) how to help him. The relationships in this story are almost without conflict. For a novel containing so many painful elements almost none of it comes through in the writing of it. The reader understands that Tom has retreated into himself because he quite plainly says so in his narration. The reader also understands the reasons for Megumi's feelings because she quite plainly speaks of them to Tom. The moments of drama that do occur seem forced and seem to have no other reason for being than to move the story along. I found The Rental Sister to be disappointing. There is the potential for a good story within the book. The central conflict has enough meat for that but the novel gets bogged down in flowery prose and the careful tying up of loose ends to provide a happy culmination of the story. But in the end I was just not interested and could not make myself care.
Most helpful positive review
1 customers found this helpful
Jeff Backhaus has craf...
Jeff Backhaus has crafted a unique story around "hikikomori," the Japanese word for someone who completely withdraws from the world by isolating himself physically and emotionally. The world of Thomas and Silke Tessler changed forever when their only child was hit and killed by a car while Thomas was caring for him. Thomas' subsequent guilt and grief resulted in a self-imposed exile in a dead-bolted room within their home. Megumi, a young Japanese immigrant dealing with her own challenges, is the "rental sister" who is hired by Silke to bring Thomas "back to life." This debut novel requires a certain suspension of disbelief; at some point after several years, Thomas' grief becomes self indulgent at best, if not indicative of a psychosis. There is also an episode with a neighbor that doesn't seem to add to our knowledge of the situation or the characters. That said, I will read any book that Algonquin publishes due to the superlative quality of their fiction. I have been a fan of Algonquin books since they were published in a small, distinctive form. Jeff Backhaus is an author to watch and Algonquin is a publisher to treasure.
Most helpful negative review
1 customers found this helpful
The Rental Sister by J...
The Rental Sister by Jeff Backhaus; (2*) Backhaus has written a novel about an intimate and private conflict. The protagonist and narrator, Tom, has retreated into his room following a tragedy. His relationship with his wife is strained to the point where she is willing to try anything to get him to rejoin the living. This is where Megumi comes in. A woman whose history allows her a different perspective on what has happened to Tom and thus knows (?) how to help him. The relationships in this story are almost without conflict. For a novel containing so many painful elements almost none of it comes through in the writing of it. The reader understands that Tom has retreated into himself because he quite plainly says so in his narration. The reader also understands the reasons for Megumi's feelings because she quite plainly speaks of them to Tom. The moments of drama that do occur seem forced and seem to have no other reason for being than to move the story along. I found The Rental Sister to be disappointing. There is the potential for a good story within the book. The central conflict has enough meat for that but the novel gets bogged down in flowery prose and the careful tying up of loose ends to provide a happy culmination of the story. But in the end I was just not interested and could not make myself care.
1-5 of 34 reviews

Jeff Backhaus has craf...

Jeff Backhaus has crafted a unique story around "hikikomori," the Japanese word for someone who completely withdraws from the world by isolating himself physically and emotionally. The world of Thomas and Silke Tessler changed forever when their only child was hit and killed by a car while Thomas was caring for him. Thomas' subsequent guilt and grief resulted in a self-imposed exile in a dead-bolted room within their home. Megumi, a young Japanese immigrant dealing with her own challenges, is the "rental sister" who is hired by Silke to bring Thomas "back to life." This debut novel requires a certain suspension of disbelief; at some point after several years, Thomas' grief becomes self indulgent at best, if not indicative of a psychosis. There is also an episode with a neighbor that doesn't seem to add to our knowledge of the situation or the characters. That said, I will read any book that Algonquin publishes due to the superlative quality of their fiction. I have been a fan of Algonquin books since they were published in a small, distinctive form. Jeff Backhaus is an author to watch and Algonquin is a publisher to treasure.

This book is set in Ne...

This book is set in New York City but it references a Japanese life style so completely that it seems like it could be happening in Tokyo. I thought it was an interesting story and it was beautifully written but, in the end, it didn't seem quite real to me. Thomas has been staying in his room for 3 years, emerging only in the dead of night to buy groceries. Then he retreats to his room, shuts the door and deadbolts it. He hasn't seen his wife, Silke, in all that time except from the dark hallway as he passes her bedroom when he goes out to buy groceries. Some tragedy caused him to go into his room and nothing Silke says or does will bring him out. Then Megumi, a young Japanese girl, is hired by Silke to be his rental sister. In Japan people like Thomas are called hikikomori and Megumi is familiar with them because her own brother was one. At first Megumi does not want to be a rental sister to Thomas because her experience with her brother was very traumatic. She is unable to say no to Silke though so she goes to talk to Thomas just the one time. Although Thomas is silent for the first visit Megumi finds she is unable to stay away. All three of the main characters have withdrawn from life although Thomas is the most extreme example. By the end they are ready to re-enter the world and are better for having encountered each other. It is almost like a fairy tale where everything ends happily ever after which is what bothered me about the book. However, sometimes it is nice to retreat to tales that do end happily.

What seemed like a dub...

What seemed like a dubious premise--this person locking himself in his room for years--could have gone either way. I am happy to report that it was very effective, and the auther acheived a compelling balance of suspense, emotional depth and intimate psychological insight. Highly recommended, if you're ready for something troubling and irresistable.

Immediately compelling...

Immediately compelling. Emotionally gripping. Instantly there is a mystery with a man who has locked himself in his room for three years, refusing to come out (hikikomori). The book was extremely intimate, sometimes uncomfortably so as the reader is slowly drawn into the pain, frustration, and grief of the three primary characters. The story is beautiful in its compassion and healing as well as forgiveness and insight. What the writer shares about the Korean and Japanese culture is of particular interest. A troubling but engrossing read that leaves the reader feeling emotionally spent but gratified.

I really enjoyed readi...

I really enjoyed reading this Early Reviewer's book. I found it pretty much of a page-turner and was intrigued by the story and the characters. The book is based on the phenomenon of hikikomori. Apparently there are a number of young people in Japan, who close themselves in their rooms and give up any contact with other people. The Rental Sister takes place in New York City. Thomas responds to grief and guilt by isolating himself in his room, away from his wife, Silke. Silke ends up employing a young Japanese woman, Megumi, to try to lure Thomas back in the world. The book is told in the alternating voices of Thomas and Megumi, and the language is pretty straightforward. This is in contrast to the plot, which is anything but straightforward.

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Electrode, Comp-283025127, DC-prod-dfw7, ENV-prod-a, PROF-PROD, VER-30.0.3-ebf-2, SHA-8c8e8dc1c07e462c80c1b82096c2da2858100078, CID-b7db8906-c51-16edd8107f023e, Generated: Fri, 06 Dec 2019 23:17:31 GMT