This year has had many of us wishing we could time travel to a time where the pandemic doesn’t exist—all of the stress, trouble and loss would be gone with it. Maybe that’s a bit extreme, but there have certainly been times this past year where we could have all at least benefited from well-meaning advice from someone wiser or with more knowledge of what the future may hold. Keigo Higashino’s book, “The Miracles of the Namiya General Store,” takes those ideas and combines them, creating a tale full of hope, love, and growth for each of the characters that the story focuses on.
The novel is a work of magical realism that takes place over several decades in Japan. Magical realism is a genre that takes place in our world but with hints of magic that are integrated into everyday life. In magical realism, there may not be an explanation for how that magic came to be or why it exists like in fantasy novels; the magic simply is.
The magic in this novel is centered in the Namiya General Store, a place that was once thriving and run by a caring old man who answered people’s anonymous requests for advice, but is now abandoned and a shelter for three criminals who find letters from the past showing up at the back door. As soon as they respond, another letter shows up for them to answer.
This story is broken up into five distinct sections, each focusing on a different period of time and a different character either seeking help or giving it through the general store. Though at first, the sections felt more like individual short stories connected only by the Namiya General Store – one about the young criminals, one about a musician, one about the store owner and his son, one about a grown-up Beatles fan looking back on his youth, and one about a successful real estate mogul – all of the stories become intertwined with one another as you turn the pages.
It is difficult for me to say what stuck with me the most about this book because I could give you a multitude of different answers.
Perhaps it is the idea of connectivity that I find so lovely and fascinating: the idea that all of our actions are not without their own effects and consequences, even if we don’t see those effects in our own lives.
Or it could be the idea that asking for help is okay. In fact, this story shows it as a human necessity. One of my favorite quotes comes from the character of Mr. Namiya, the owner of the store. When asked about why he responds to every letter he receives, even joke letters, he says, “Harassment, pranks, it doesn’t matter to me. I treat every letter that comes in as a cry for help. These people are no different from the rest of us. They have a hole in their hearts, and something vital is bleeding out.”
Reading this book is like taking a journey through your own mind. You learn and grow along with the characters. You get your heart broken alongside them, you feel their victories, and though you may not agree with some of the decisions that they make, the book is the kind of book that leads you to think about what you would have done in their place, what advice you would have given or asked for.
“The Miracles of the Namiya General Store” shows us what it can mean to be human, how to treat each other with compassion, and why you should never be afraid to reach out for help if and when you need it.