The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina was translated from Italian by Lucy Rand and published in the U.S. in 2021.
The novel tells the story of Yui, who lost her young daughter and mother in the horrific tsunami that struck northern Japan in 2011. After living in a camp for the homeless, Yui rebuilds her life in Tokyo, where she works as host for a radio program. A caller to Yui’s show tells her about Bell Gardia near the city of Ōtsuchi in Iwate Prefecture. It is near the Mountain of the Whale, a region devastated by the tsunami. He tells Yui that a gardener put a phone booth on his property. The man invites people to speak through the wind phone to those they have lost. The wind carries their thoughts, questions and concerns to their beloved dead.
Yui drives the long trip to Bell Gardia, to “the wind phone.” There, she meets Takeshi, who is a widower. He goes there to speak to his wife about their 3-year-old daughter, who has stopped talking since her mother’s death. Yui and Takeshi find comfort in Bell Gardia, and they agree to travel there once a month from their homes in Tokyo.
During their car trips to the wind phone, Yui and Takeshi forge a friendship. In speaking to those who have died, they learn how to open up to those who remain. This is a beautiful and comforting read.
Contributed by Maureen Millea Smith, a librarian and readers’ advisor at the Edina Library and a Minnesota Book Award–winning novelist. You can find her books at maureenmilleasmith.com.