If you are having difficulty navigating this website please contact us at member.services@bookofthemonth.com or 1-877-236-8540.

Get your first book for $5 with code PETALS at checkout.

Join today!

We’ll make this quick.

First, enter your email. Then choose your move.

By tapping "Pick a book now" or "Pick a book later", you agree to Book of the Month’s Terms of use and Privacy policy.

Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
Literary fiction

Rainbirds

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Clarissa Goenawan, on your first book!

by Clarissa Goenawan

Excellent choice

Just enter your email to add this book to your box.

By tapping "Add to box", you agree to Book of the Month’s Terms of use and Privacy policy.

Quick take

Set in Japan, Rainbirds is a quietly powerful novel about a young man searching for answers in the wake of his sister's murder.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_HeavyRead

    Heavy read

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Psychological

    Psychological

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Cerebral

    Cerebral

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_International

    International

Synopsis

Ren Ishida has nearly completed his graduate degree at Keio University when he receives news of his sister’s violent death. Keiko was stabbed one rainy night on her way home, and there are no leads. Ren heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister’s affairs, failing to understand why she chose to turn her back on the family and Tokyo for this desolate place years ago.

But then Ren is offered Keiko’s newly vacant teaching position at a prestigious local cram school and her bizarre former arrangement of free lodging at a wealthy politician’s mansion in exchange for reading to the man’s ailing wife. He accepts both, abandoning Tokyo and his crumbling relationship there in order to better understand his sister’s life and what took place the night of her death.

As Ren comes to know the eccentric local figures, from the enigmatic politician who’s boarding him to his fellow teachers and a rebellious, captivating young female student, he delves into his shared childhood with Keiko and what followed. Haunted in his dreams by a young girl who is desperately trying to tell him something, Ren realizes that Keiko Ishida kept many secrets, even from him.

Read less

Content warning

  • Plot is not action-oriented
  • Exposition is cerebral in nature
  • Occasional dark themes

Why I love it

Part of being on the editorial team here at BOTM means that I read the opening chapters of literally dozens of books each month. When I come across a story that makes me slow down and not look up until I’ve read from cover to cover, I know I’ve found something special.

This happened to me with Rainbirds. The writing grabbed me immediately—it’s whispery and elegant. Even the chapter titles are evocative, like snatches of barely-remembered dreams or vivid memories from the narrator’s life. On page one, we learn that Ren’s sister, a polite cram school teacher named Keiko, has recently died. There’s a police investigation, of course, but almost immediately, the story veers off the “whodunit” track. Seeking answers, Ren takes over Keiko’s job, moves into her former residence … and finds himself pulled down a path of self-discovery. He forges an unlikely friendship with an old, mysteriously silent woman. He explores newfound intimacies and reconsiders old girlfriends. Yes, he’s searching for Keiko. But he’s also searching for himself.

Reading this book is like flipping through a stranger’s polaroids pictures—it contains snapshots of a life lived simply, as well as unanswered questions lurking just out of reach. This is not a page-turner in the traditional sense, but rather a moving depiction of grief and regret. A book to read deeply (and not necessarily quickly), I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Read less

Member ratings (2,867)

  • Ashley W.

    Jacksonville, FL

    Mysterious adventure through a brother’s mind searching for insight into his sister’s puzzling & unexpected old life. Ren’s conflicted character brings a darkness you’ll come to appreciate at the end.

  • Whitney L.

    Cedar Park, TX

    This book wasn’t my first choice for BOTM but I’m so glad I landed on it. It’s haunting, beautifully written and one of my favorite books of 2018. I feel like I’m grieving on the character’s behalf.

  • Jay-Ann S.

    Pittsburgh, PA

    I’d been looking to pick this up for some time and I’m glad I did. The world and complex characters and emotions Clarissa Goenawan created was amazing. Different than my usual reads and I loved it!!!

  • Mattia A.

    Plano, TX

    I inhaled this book. I was immersed in the MC’s grief process/his interactions w/ the strangeness of Akakawa. A Murakamiesque, surreal journey to self-discovery & an intimate read worth the time spent

  • Britany A.

    Chicago, IL

    This book was exactly what I was hoping it would be. (How often can you say that?) I picked this one not only for the gorgeous cover, but I wanted a slow building murder mystery set in a small town i

Create a free account!

Sign up to see book details, our quick takes, and more.

By tapping "Sign up", you agree to Book of the Month’s Terms of use and Privacy policy.