I'm really not sure what to say about this book. It's not like it's a godawfully written, painful experience (as was one other book I recently read as an award judge); it's just so completely not my thing. And it's my contention that good work can convince any reader of its merit, however distant from that reader's aesthetic "comfort zone."Haruki is a Brazilian illustrator; he's completely Brazilian, knows no Japanese, nothing about Japan. And yet he's been asked to illustrate a new translation of Basho's haiku/travel journal Saga nikki. He gets a copy of the Japanese text to get a "sense" of it, a woman in the Rio subway gets curious and asks him about the book, they have coffee and dinner together, and he invites her to come with him to Japan for research. She does. They don't sleep together; they hardly even talk. Celina stays in Kyoto while Haruki goes off to Tokyo. They both visit sites associated with Basho. At the end of the novel, he comes back to Kyoto.It's told through third-person narration (close to either Haruki or Celina) and excerpts from three journals: Haruki's, Celina's, and Basho's. The journals are full of scenery and descriptions that are oblique at best; the narration, even when it privileges us with a character's thoughts, is composed largely of gaps, omissions, silences.Celina is at first described only through her memories of her time with someone named Marco. We gradually learn—traveling backwards through her memory of his hands on her body, the day they met, times they spent together—that they are no longer together, that Celina made the break, that they had a daughter named Alice, that Alice died in a car crash when Marco was driving and then Celina broke it off with him.Haruki is similarly unable to think about someone. Between the lines of his journal entries and the narrative sections, we learn that her name is Yukiko, that she's Basho's translator, that she's married and had an affair with Haruki which she ended a year ago, that he liked to draw her, that she suggested him to her publisher as the illustrator for this edition. I think there's also something there about knowing vs. not knowing the language of your heritage, maybe expression in language vs. drawing, but it's too ethereally expressed.I don't know what we learn about Basho.Normally I wouldn't have the least patience with this sort of indirection and "poetic" delicacy, but I kept it up because I was reading this for an award jury. I knew the obliqueness and compression was part of the point—the novel is framed around haiku, after all—but I just couldn't compile it into any kind of coherent sense of the characters and their feelings. The backwards sequence of revelations felt fundamentally dishonest; I don't think people really, literally "cannot bear to think about" the painful episodes in their lives unless they've resulted in some real, literal mental illness (like PTSD). Instead, this felt like coy nostalgia, a kind of narrative flirtation with the reader—one that fails.I should also comment on the translation. I read the entire book in English and a good chunk in Portuguese, precisely for the purpose of judging the translation. On a macro scale the things I have trouble with were present in the original. But on the small scale I was tripped up several times by the translator's choices in English; here's a selection:p 29: "Lagoa, the lagoon in Rio": why give its Portuguese name, which simply means the English word, when it will never be referred to again?p 30: "excluded only myself": the chronic hypercorrection—should be "me"p 50: "lived her days out": why not "lived out her days," which is much easier to parse?p 56: "where no one has tread": the past participle is "trod"p 61: "we take outside with us the sweets": this sounds like the sort of convoluted syntax in which amateur translation from the German resultsp 69: "abysm" instead of the much more common equivalent "abyss"... Enough. Clearly some people (Brazilian readers, the people who published the US edition) find more value in Lisboa's poetic language than I do. I probably shouldn't have been asked to judge this book. (I requested only fiction, no poetry, and indeed I got fiction. Just a very poetic variety of it.) But if it had been well-enough done and well-enough translated, I think I could've learned to appreciate it. Maybe not enough to choose it for the prize, but enough, perhaps, that I wouldn't have felt like I had to drag myself through the last half of what is really a very short book.