I Was Sleeping

I Was Sleeping is a critically acclaimed and highly popular novel by Japanese author Banana Yoshimoto. First published in 1990, the book tells the story of a young woman named Sakamoto who struggles to come to terms with the death of her mother while navigating her own complex emotions and relationships.

The novel is characterized by Yoshimoto’s spare writing style, which is both deeply introspective and widely relatable. She delves into the intricacies of grief, loss, and love, exploring the intricacies of human connections and the ways in which we cope with loss.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of I Was Sleeping is the way Yoshimoto manages to imbue her characters with a profound sense of grace and resilience. Sakamoto is a strikingly modern protagonist, grappling with issues of identity and belonging in a postmodern world. Yoshimoto captures the essence of this experience with remarkable sensitivity and insight, painting a picture of young people attempting to carve out a place for themselves in a rapidly changing society.

The novel is divided into three sections: “I”, “You”, and “He”. These sections are told from different perspectives, with each section exploring a different facet of the story. Throughout the book, Yoshimoto weaves a web of interconnected characters, each grappling with their own struggles and traumas.

In “I”, we meet Sakamoto, who has just lost her mother to cancer. Struggling to come to terms with her grief, Sakamoto becomes increasingly isolated and detached, finding solace only in her love of cooking. It is during this period that she begins to develop feelings for a young man she meets at a restaurant, who becomes her confidant and confessor.

In “You”, we meet Sakamoto’s best friend, whom she affectionately calls “you”. The section explores their deeply intertwined relationship, as well as the larger themes of love and friendship. Sakamoto struggles to understand her own emotions, while her friend grapples with his own sense of identity and purpose.

Finally, in “He”, we meet Sakamoto’s love interest, a young man who is grappling with his own emotional struggles. The section serves as a meditation on love and loss, with the two characters coming together in a way that is at once deeply touching and deeply vulnerable.

Throughout the novel, Yoshimoto imbues her prose with a sense of quiet beauty, capturing the small moments of human connection that sustain us in moments of grief and loss. Her writing is both poetic and accessible, evoking a sense of wistful nostalgia that will resonate with readers of all ages.

Overall, I Was Sleeping is a remarkable work of fiction, one that manages to be both universal and deeply personal. Yoshimoto’s prose is spare and evocative, and her characters are achingly real. If you are looking for a novel that captures the complexities of human emotion, as well as the beauty and grace that can come from even the darkest moments of life, then I Was Sleeping is the book for you.


1. Is I Was Sleeping a novel for young adults?
While the book does deal with themes that are certainly relevant to young adults, such as identity, belonging, and relationships, it is not necessarily marketed solely towards that demographic. Readers of all ages can find something to appreciate in Yoshimoto’s beautiful writing and deeply introspective characters.

2. Is I Was Sleeping a sad book?
Yes and no. Certainly, the book deals with themes of loss and grief, and there are moments of real pathos throughout. However, Yoshimoto imbues her work with a sense of quiet beauty and grace, and there is a real sense of hope and resilience that pervades the narrative.

3. What is the significance of the book’s title?
The title “I Was Sleeping” is taken from a line in a poem by T. S. Eliot: “We are the hollow men / We are the stuffed men / Leaning together / Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!” Yoshimoto uses this line to evoke a sense of emptiness and detachment that permeates her characters’ experiences of loss and grief. However, the phrase “I Was Sleeping” also suggests a sense of awakening or rebirth, as characters come to terms with their emotions and begin to form new relationships and connections.

4. What sets I Was Sleeping apart from other coming-of-age novels?
While there are certainly themes in I Was Sleeping that will be familiar to fans of coming-of-age literature, such as identity and belonging, the novel is particularly notable for its exploration of nuanced emotions and relationships. Yoshimoto’s characters are deeply introspective and imbued with a profound sense of grace and resilience, which sets this novel apart from more standard fare.

5. Should I read I Was Sleeping if I don’t typically enjoy literary fiction?
While the novel is certainly literary in nature, Yoshimoto’s spare and accessible prose style means that it is relatively easy to read and engage with. However, readers who typically prefer more plot-driven storytelling may find the book to be overly introspective or slow-paced.