This story centers on a group of women (mostly American) who, after losing their husbands, go to Japan to live as nuns. Issues of patriarchy, love, and death are explored.
Sentences Worth Studying
- “Before light has come and the little birds whose names we don’t know are fluttering and darting out of the eaves of the temple, one of the monks is hitting the ancient cast-iron bell” (122).
- “After all the grief, the panic of it, the savage emptiness of the house still cluttered with things, the tightening knot of friends and relatives who won’t leave us alone with their relentless buzzing concern—suddenly it is late and I am still up, prowling the house like an intruder in my own former life, and the idea comes: an image of elegant architecture, a raked garden, a line of monks with bent heads, the deep gong of a bell, the clean, chilly, minimalist promise of Japan. Why not? It has to be better than THIS, I think” (124).
- “The floors are hard, the work is hard. Aren’t you supposed to respect your elders in this country? He shrugs and smiles, putting up his hands. He has learned this very American gesture of absolving responsibility” (124).
- “The worst part is seeing the monks, smirking at us. We sweep and mop in angry silence. But late that night, I wake to a rasping sound and rise. I go to the window; it’s like my dream, the one where I see my husband off on a trip, and he wants me to run out and kiss him goodbye, but we’ve just fought and I won’t. I’m always going to the window and watching him leave, and I don’t know why I won’t bend, why I can’t make the cold center of myself soften” (125).
- “What is THIS? / This is watching the light creep into the window of a house that we know holds no warm breath but our own. This is waiting for an excuse to speak all day, to the bank teller, to the neighbor who is just trying to get a car seat into his minivan and doesn’t have time for you, standing on your lawn in your robe or in your Sunday best, hoping for just a little conversation. This is inviting the Jehovah’s Witnesses in and serving them cookies just to listen. This is going to the dentist more than you need to just to feel those warm latex fingers in your mouth, massaging your gums. It is looking at art or listening to your favorite songs and feeling puzzled by them, those things you loved suddenly bereft of meaning. This is looking down the long dark subway tunnel of your life and thinking, all right, I can do this, even if it is alone, if I just keep walking, keep rising and eating and sleeping and waking . . .” (126).
- “Grief, the roshi tells us, is like a fire that is licking at our bodies from the inside. Like anger, it stems from a kind of greed. We are clinging to our loved ones, to our former lives, like children cling to toys. We are desperate not to let go. This desperation is slowly eating us alive. It is a hungry and relentless fire” (127).
- “Our friends back home are a little horrified, we know, by what we’ve done to ourselves. But the moment someone becomes a widow, the world wants her to stop in time, to freeze exactly as she was. She must stay in the same house, read the same books, sit in the same chair. There’s something dangerous about a widow who continues to change and grow, who grabs out at the world, demanding something, instead of wilting quietly from it. We are looking to become. At night we can feel it in our bones. They groan like the skeletons of teenagers, changing their shape too fast to keep up” (128).
- “I married young, and marriage was a benevolent monster eating me from the inside. I never had to be anyone at all, as long as there was the monster there to care and feed” (129).
- “We walk on. It’s getting dark. The weather here is unpredictable and it has begun to snow. Our steps are more urgent now . . . All we can do is keep walking along the beach, looking out at the gray little houses in the dimming light. She can’t disappear. She is one of us. She wouldn’t leave us” (133).