The Great Passage

The Great Passage by Shion Miura

Inspired as a boy by the multiple meanings to be found for a single word in the dictionary, Kohei Araki is devoted to the notion that a dictionary is a boat to carry us across the sea of words. But after thirty-seven years creating them at Gembu Books, it’s time for him to retire and find his replacement.

He discovers a kindred spirit in Mitsuya Majime—a young, disheveled square peg with a penchant for collecting antiquarian books and a background in linguistics—whom he swipes from his company’s sales department.

Led by his new mentor and joined by an energetic, if reluctant, new recruit and an elder linguistics scholar, Majime is tasked with a career-defining accomplishment: completing The Great Passage, a comprehensive 2,900-page tome of the Japanese language. On his journey, Majime discovers friendship, romance, and an incredible dedication to his work, inspired by the bond that connects us all: words.

Author: Shion Miura

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Rating: 4.5/5

This book was beautiful. As someone who loves language and all that comes with it (reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary…), a story featuring characters who also love language was both welcome and lovely. I read it in one day, and even though it is a translation from Japanese, every word seems to be selected with great care…as you’d expect.

Majime is a bit of an oddball, and the more we, as readers, get to know him, the more we come to love him. I delighted in seeing him through the eyes of multiple different characters, including his own. But this wasn’t a story in which the perspective jumped from character to character randomly; instead, we had a section featuring one character’s perspective, followed by another, followed by another. It’s beautiful because just like us, the more these characters come to know him, the more they love him. All through their common dedication to what has become his life’s work.

The characters are fleshed out just enough to tug at our heart strings but stop short so that we can continue to romanticize them in our minds. The story is enchanting but not too much of an emotional investment. It’s missing the last “umph” that would push me to a five-star rating and the desire to shout its praises from the rooftops, but it was still very, very good.

All in all, it was a quick and easy read that I would absolutely encourage you to pick up, especially if you love language.

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