Murder and the exploration of love beyond its mainstream romantic boundaries. Rainbirds by Indonesian-born Singaporean writer Clarissa Goenawan captures your attention right from the beginning and does not disappoint you with the novel’s end. Her words sway your emotions and tugs at your heartstrings with such ease as you fall deeper and deeper into this fictional small town of Japan, Akakawa.
Written from the point of view of Ren Ishida, you journey with him as he visits Akakawa – the town his sister Keiko lived in before she was viciously stabbed one rainy night on her way home. With no leads and an understanding of his sibling that does not delve beneath the surface, Ren finds himself picking up the pieces his sister has left behind while interacting with the figures he comes to know of in this town.
Haunting and incredibly bittersweet, I find myself rooting for various characters written in the novel. With wholesome characters, Rainbirds presents people just as they are – each with their own intentions, reasons and choices. There is no judgement being casted on any character and none made one-dimensional with general washes of devil or saint.
If you enjoy discovering a fictional world through your own imagination and descriptive writing that dives headfirst into the psyche of the main character, Rainbirds is an accessible read that communicates a story worth reading with clarity.
Popspoken: Why pursue this story from a male perspective? Do you think the gender influences the way its told?
Clarissa: The choice to use a male POV wasn’t a conscious decision. Rather, it was what I felt was right for the kind of story I wanted to tell. Ever since the idea came to me, the main character has always been a young man.
I did make some minor adjustments on the text after few male readers from my writing group commented that men, in general, are more decisive and less perceptive compared to women. I have to emphasize the word in general because there is always a danger of stereotyping. All individuals are unique. There are plenty of sensitive men and strong-minded women around.
Popspoken: How do you keep up with the plot and all the different elements interweaving together?
Clarissa: I have to admit I’m not so much of a plotter. I usually have a clear idea of a beginning, a sense of the ending, and some sort of key scenes—but nothing coherent to connect them. I simply write through the first draft and do rounds of editing until the story reveals itself.
Popspoken: Did anything surprise you while writing this book?
Clarissa: When I started Rainbirds, I didn’t know what kind of story it would become. Everything was a surprise to me. There were plenty of developments I didn’t foresee, especially in term of characters’ motivations.
As a writer, I believe in trusting my characters to guide me. I’m often pleasantly surprised by the unexpected places they lead me to.
Popspoken: If there is one character in the book you can flesh out further, who would it be? Why?
Clarissa: Rather than one, there are quite a number of supporting characters I’m drawn to. In fact, because I feel strongly compelled to tell their story, I decided to make Rainbirds the first in a series of interrelated stand-alone novels. Each of the novels will have different stories and different main characters, but all of them are set in the same universe. Characters in one book will make appearances in the others. I hope readers of Rainbirds will have fun guessing who they are.
Popspoken: If you can become one of your characters for a day, who will you pick?
Clarissa: Rio Nakajima, also known as ‘Seven Stars.’ She’s a seventeen-year-old girl who is beautiful and smart, but also at times rash. She speaks her mind without holding back, unafraid to chase after the things she that wants, and doesn’t care about what others think of her. I really admire Rio’s confidence and boldness.
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Reads is a series by Teo Dawn on Popspoken. Learn more about local writers, their inspirations and what they think is worth writing about. After all, one writes about what one cares about. Got a book you want featured? Drop her an email here.