The word ganbaru is ubiquitous in Japanese culture. Roughly translated, it means “persistence”, “tenacity” or “hard work”. When junior high students cram for high school entrance exams, their parents remind them, “Ganbatte!” When a 1995 earthquake killed 6,500 people and irreparably damaged more than 400,000 buildings in Kobe, the government urged people on: “Ganbaro!”

Teenager Benny Oh has just lost his father, a Japanese-American jazz clarinetist. His mother, Annabelle, too, struggles with her grief. As a few years pass, Annabelle lets their home fill with the clutter of things she thinks will fill the emptiness her husband left behind. It is surely never comfortable to live with someone who hoards, but Benny’s situation is complicated: he can hear the voices of material objects.

A summer 2021 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted thirty years of worsening climate impacts—and that nothing can be done to stop it. Heat waves. Droughts. Wildfires. Flooding. Given bleak environmental news, staggering global inequality (the world’s richest 1% hold more than 40% of the world’s wealth), a resurgent refugee crisis, and the growth of authoritarianism worldwide, young people could be forgiven for thinking they don’t have much to look forward to. “In this era,” author Takuji Ichikawa asks, “What should a novel look like?”

There is a growing interest in a behavioral phenomenon the Internet has dubbed “main character syndrome”. Whether motivated by narcissism or a healthy sense of self-worth, some people live as though they were the hero in a fictional story and interact with the world around them as though they were its center. The narrator of The Woman in the Purple Skirt is not one of these people. She barely sees herself as a character at all.