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A Note from Joe, Beth’s Husband

When Beth first told me about her book idea, we were walking together at the Tōdai-ji temple in Nara, Japan. It was April, and people all around us were celebrating hanami, the custom of viewing the cherry blossoms. Beth and I, two expatriates living in Kobe, noticed plates of special foods left at Tōdai-ji. She said the offerings reminded her of Obon.


Obon is a week-long Japanese summer holiday when families anticipate the return of their ancestors’ spirits—sort of Memorial Day and Thanksgiving mixed with Mexico’s Day of the Dead. Beth said she wanted to write a novel about Obon but told from the perspective of someone who had recently died. I remember that spring day at Tōdai-ji because the idea of Obon written from a dead person’s perspective interested me. It felt unique and exactly like something my wife would imagine. At the time, she hosted a Japanese radio show. She was also featured as a television and print advertising spokesmodel—a Midwestern native from Illinois dressed in full kimono and selling Japanese products such as tea, candy, and pudding. You can probably still hear her voice on the train to Kansai Airport, welcoming passengers to the terminal. She lived such a creative life, so I was not surprised that one of her goals was to write a novel. When we eventually returned to the United States, she completed a graduate degree in fiction writing, and the idea she once shared with me beside the Tōdai-ji cherry trees became a manuscript that quickly won a PEN/New England Award for new writers.

And then she died.

Beth had written a novel about the delicate veil between life and death— and now she, herself, was dead. Beth would have seen the humor in that. She loved to laugh. During the last awful week of Beth’s cancer, her friends and I promised to find her novel an audience. Thanks to you, reader, we are keeping that promise.

Beth believed in an afterlife, and through her story of a complex Japanese family—both living and dead—I can see, smell, hear, and taste exactly how that afterlife existed in her mind. Those descriptions comfort me, as well as the other people who knew her best. Just like the Tsuruda family she created in these pages, I believe Beth’s soul found her way home.