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Book Review: You Can’t See the Snow (2022) by Rokudo Ningen
Book Review: You Can't See the Snow (2022) by Rokudo Ningen

Book Review: You Can’t See the Snow (2022) by Rokudo Ningen

Exploring love and sickness in all its triumphs and challenges.

“One summer night, Natsuki Uzume meets Yuki Iwato, an art student from the same university, and falls in love. After that, they spend night after night together. But as autumn approaches, Yuki suddenly tells him to find a cute girlfriend, wishes him well, and disappears from his life. Desperate to see her again, Natsuki visits her family home, but an unimaginable secret awaits him there: Yuki suffers from a mysterious illness that forces her to sleep through the winter each year. Is Natsuki willing to stay with her, even if it means spending every winter alone? And can Yuki, whose strange way of life has only brought her heartbreak, trust him enough to give him a chance?” (Yen Press)

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“You Can’t See the Snow” is slightly deceptive in its execution. Originally presented as a prototypical romance story that hints at a modernization of ‘sleeping beauty,’ it slowly becomes apparent that is not Rokudo Ningen’s inspiration or aim. Instead, the readers are given a reflection on illness and desires stemming from a terminal condition. The book takes a sensational concept of a woman who goes into a coma every winter but presents this predicament as a metaphor for feeling passed over when quantifying one’s value.

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The afterword puts much of this in context: Rokudo Ningen wrote/conceptualized much of the novel while in hospital for an undisclosed illness. Approaching the story from this perspective, the writing becomes an inescapable malaise where longing for love and understanding blends with various elements extending from insecurity and uncertainty. Romance is at the center, but it is a challenge, family holds great importance, but their love also comes with admitted suffering, and the desire to be seen as normal offers conflicting emotions when help is needed. “You Can’t See the Snow” touches on many facets of human suffering and desires, and it becomes vastly more thought-provoking than the cliched romance story it first presents itself as.

Much of the book’s success in exploring various themes comes from the author’s approach to storytelling, both in attention to detail and honesty in character flaws. He perfectly sets up every scene with the realism of experiencing it, from minute things like a character’s mind wandering and noticing a rather mundane item or happening close by. There are many instances of inconsequential imagery or observations, but this works greatly in favor of crafting a sincere human experience.

Natsuki Uzume and Yuki Iwato face ample adversity throughout, with their own insecurities and problems communicating with each other. A lifetime of dealing with health issues and the awkwardness of young love is not glossed over in favor of a more idealized romance. There are certainly moments shared between the two that are touching, but nothing feels embellished. There is a slight trade-off here wherein both are not necessarily ‘likable,’ but their realism helps establish the greater themes Ningen explores.

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Translator Taylor Engel did an impressive job with the material. Much of the story becomes caught up in exploring language use and the ability (or inability) to convey emotions through it. The latter chapter focuses heavily on this, with Natsuki becoming aware of how flawed his choice of words was in defining his relationship with Yuki. There are also moments of poetic reflection that effortlessly flow under the translation. The entire release is also perfectly presented in the hardcover edition from Yen On (Yen Press), with the book having the ideal size and durability for a travel companion.

One element of “You Can’t See the Snow” will divide readers, with the epilogue slightly undermining the work that came before it. This will depend on whether the reader prefers an open ending that lands at its most emotionally poignant while allowing open interpretation for the future or those who feel cheated not knowing exactly what transpired after. However, even if the epilogue is seen as an egregious misstep, it is, ultimately, several pages of disappointment at the end of an exceptionally well-crafted novel that can be ignored.

“You Can’t See the Snow” is one of the more powerfully poignant and emotionally engaging works released by Yen On, which published most of Makoto Shinkai’s writing to give perspective. It is a must-read for those who appreciate works that explore love and sickness in all its triumphs and challenges.