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Book Review: Get lost in Japan with “Yume”

If Studio Ghibli’s classic film “Spirited Away” was rated R, you’d get Sifton Tracey Anipare’s 2021 debut “Yume.”

Set in Japan, English teacher Cybelle is torn between extending her teaching contract and going back to her home in Canada. Dealing with daily scrutiny and disconnect from her peers, Cybelle’s life and appetite start to take a turn towards the weird.

Simultaneously, gifted Zaniel navigates the world of Japanese demons (known as “yokai”) and mythology alongside his immortal “bodyguard” Akki. After Cybelle and Zaniel’s paths cross in a chance encounter, the two are thrown into the supernatural underbelly of Japan to survive and do some good ole’ self-discovery.

Right off the bat, “Yume” had a slow start. Going through Cybelle’s day-to-day motions for nearly 100 pages was draining, but nevertheless, once the narrative picks up, it’s hard to put it down. Anipare jumps between Cybelle and Zaniel’s narratives like a classic film–easily and with an enviable, cinematic finesse that seamlessly pulls the curtains back on the layered worlds. Along with the cinematic narration, the prose was just as imaginative and whimsical, even during the more violent and crass scenes.

If there was any way I would live in the world of “Yume,” I would be first in line for a one-way ticket. I am not well-read on Japanese mythology and folklore, but nevertheless, the demons and supernatural creatures were a delight to read about and dive into as someone with little knowledge of Japanese myths. Yet, the mythology caught me off-guard as there is not much explanation behind the demons who made regular appearances in the story.

Cybelle and Zaniel’s arcs don’t have much growth to them, but their dynamics and likeability make the story worthwhile. Every interaction between the two is overflowing with wit that’ll have you giggling to yourself. Zaniel’s intrusion into Cybelle’s life is one of the many keys to her figuring what she wants from life; Cybelle’s interference pushes Zaniel to make some tough–but necessary decisions for his and her own well-being. I sympathized most with Cybelle’s indecisiveness toward her life–especially since I’m going through a similar existential crisis and made her a character I will hold on to long after reading this.

Anipare’s debut is as imaginative as “Spirited Away,” and will hopefully push the door open wider for more mythological stories outside of European myths in the near future. “Yume” will leave readers wanting to become experts on Japanese mythology, watch a Studio Ghibli movie (or two), and more stories from Anipare’s otherworldly mind.


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