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Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness
Cover of Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness
Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness
Borrow Borrow
Longlisted for the 2016 PEN Literary Award
Books may be Mayumi Saito's greatest love and her one source of true pleasure. Forty-one years old, disenchanted wife and dutiful mother, Mayumi's work as a librarian on a small island off the coast of New England feeds her passion for reading and provides her with many occasions for wry observations on human nature, but it does little to remedy the mundanity of her days. That is, until the day she issues a library card to a shy seventeen-year-old boy and swiftly succumbs to a sexual obsession that subverts the way she sees the library, her family, the island she lives on, and ultimately herself.

Wary of the consequences of following through on her fantasies, Mayumi hesitates at first. But she cannot keep the young man from her thoughts. After a summer of overlong glances and nervous chitchat in the library, she finally accepts that their connection is undeniable. In a sprawling house emptied of its summer vacationers, their affair is consummated and soon consolidated thanks to an explosive charge of erotic energy. Mayumi's life is radically enriched by the few hours each week that she shares with the young man, and as their bond grows stronger thanks not only to their physical closeness but also to their long talks about the books they both love, those hours spent apart seem to Mayumi increasingly bleak and intolerable. As her obsession worsens, in a frantic attempt to become closer to the young man, Mayumi nervously befriends another librarian patron, the young man's mother. The two women forge a tenuous friendship that will prove vital to both in the most unexpected ways when catastrophe strikes.

Exquisitely written, Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness is part wry confession, part serious meditation. At its most anxious, it's a book about time, at its most ecstatic, it's a deeply human story about pleasure.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Longlisted for the 2016 PEN Literary Award
Books may be Mayumi Saito's greatest love and her one source of true pleasure. Forty-one years old, disenchanted wife and dutiful mother, Mayumi's work as a librarian on a small island off the coast of New England feeds her passion for reading and provides her with many occasions for wry observations on human nature, but it does little to remedy the mundanity of her days. That is, until the day she issues a library card to a shy seventeen-year-old boy and swiftly succumbs to a sexual obsession that subverts the way she sees the library, her family, the island she lives on, and ultimately herself.

Wary of the consequences of following through on her fantasies, Mayumi hesitates at first. But she cannot keep the young man from her thoughts. After a summer of overlong glances and nervous chitchat in the library, she finally accepts that their connection is undeniable. In a sprawling house emptied of its summer vacationers, their affair is consummated and soon consolidated thanks to an explosive charge of erotic energy. Mayumi's life is radically enriched by the few hours each week that she shares with the young man, and as their bond grows stronger thanks not only to their physical closeness but also to their long talks about the books they both love, those hours spent apart seem to Mayumi increasingly bleak and intolerable. As her obsession worsens, in a frantic attempt to become closer to the young man, Mayumi nervously befriends another librarian patron, the young man's mother. The two women forge a tenuous friendship that will prove vital to both in the most unexpected ways when catastrophe strikes.

Exquisitely written, Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness is part wry confession, part serious meditation. At its most anxious, it's a book about time, at its most ecstatic, it's a deeply human story about pleasure.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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  • Kirkus

    March 15, 2015
    A sense of longing suffuses Tseng's sexy, sad debut novel about a 41-year-old librarian who embarks on an affair with a shy, handsome high school student. Readers of literary fiction might be turned off by the premise of award-winning poet Tseng's (Red Flower, White Flower, 2013, etc.) debut novel, which sounds suspiciously like a bodice-ripper: Mayumi, a librarian living on an island off the New England coast that empties in the offseason-emotionally marooned in a loveless marriage, clinging for warmth to her 4-year-old daughter, and drifting toward middle age-finds unlikely, forbidden love and gasp-inducing passion in the arms of an alluring 17-year-old just leaving the safe harbor of his boyhood. Aware of the dangers and abashed at the Nabokov-ian overtones, Mayumi nevertheless handily introduces the young man, whom she never names, to the pleasures of sex and literature. He buoys her with his youth and beauty, saving her from sinking deeper into isolation. And then there's the young man's mother, to whom Mayumi also finds herself drawn and with whom she forges a relationship. The slow, inevitable tectonic intersection of these three lives leads, ultimately, to calamity, though not in the way you might predict. Yet, in other regards, the interconnection also holds the key to their survival, providing pockets of pure joy that keep them afloat amid despair. So, sure, this does at times read like a romance with particular middle-aged-mom appeal; its love scenes don't lack for erotic description and detail, and Mayumi's obsessive admiration for the young man swings between coolly perceptive and discomfitingly overheated. But the precision and poetry of Tseng's writing keep the book from meandering too far in that direction, and the emotional and physical landscapes she conjures-the snow-covered vistas, cozy hidden cottages, and jewellike spring-fed ponds-make it worth the visit.Tseng explores time and place, isolation and connection, and veers more toward the lyrical than the lurid.

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Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness
Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness
Jennifer Tseng
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