‘Filling Up With Sugar’ by Yuten Sawanishi

Filling Up With Sugar by Yuten Sawanishi, 2014

The magic trick:

Creating a fake, almost whimsical, disease to mark distance between the reader and the tragedy

We’re off to Japan this week.

One of the very best stories you will find about a dying parent, and that is a robust genre. Yukiko, the protagonist here, is pausing her own life for a while so that she can care for her dying mother. Her mom is slowly turning into sugar.

It’s a sweet, strange, and incredibly sad way for the writer to approach such a situation, turning the woman’s degenerative condition into something otherworldly. I’d suggest it’s also brilliant.

Because her disease doesn’t have something immediately real and familiar to us, like cancer, the reader gets a little bit of distance from the tragedy at the heart of the story. We’re able to let our focus wander a little to Yukiko’s life and needs. Of course, Yukiko does the same.

So when it all comes crashing back, and the reality of her mother’s situation regains focus, the weight of it – and the weight of the guilt – hit the character and the reader both.

And that’s quite a trick on Sawanishi’s part.

The selection:

A vague and childish thought had crossed Yukiko’s mind long ago, when she first learned that an illness existed in which the cells of the body turn to sugar: Filling up with sugar – what a lovely way to die! She imagined it must feel something like Hansel and Gretel’s joy on discovering the gingerbread house combined with the witch’s elation at the appearance of her long-awaited victims.

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