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Hikikomori and the Rental Sister

3.49  ·  Rating Details ·  930 Ratings  ·  175 Reviews
Thomas Tessler, devastated by a tragedy, has cloistered himself in his bedroom and shut out the world for the past three years. His wife, Silke, lives in the next room, but Thomas no longer shares his life with her, leaving his hideout only occasionally, in the wee hours of the night, to pick up food at the grocery store around the corner from their Manhattan apartment. Is ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published January 8th 2013 by Algonquin Books
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(showing 1-30)
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Oct 01, 2014 Eve rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, read-2014
Knowing that I am going to be separated from my physical library for a long time has thrown me into a reading frenzy. It's like Sophie's Choice around my house lately. Which books to read (or save) before I say my goodbyes? I don't know if you're guilty of this too, but I mostly hold off on reading books that I know I will love and cherish, and instead read ones that I know I'll just "like". It's like saving the best pieces of a chocolate box until the very end; reading okay books seems to make ...more
Aug 24, 2014 Nafiza rated it did not like it
The concept sounds cool, yea? I’ve been interested in Hikikomori for a while now after I watched a Japanese movie that featured one as a character (I actually watched the movie mainly for Aoi Yuu) but anyway. They are interesting and sad – what provokes a person to withdraw completely from society? I thought I’d get something interesting, something substantial – a philosophical meandering of sorts that I would enjoy. Perhaps in the same tone as a Murakami book. Something that tried to look beyon ...more
Feb 20, 2016 Bandit rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Abbreviated from its original name to omit Hikikomori, the word and lifestyle unfamiliar to many, but of a real presence in its native Japan. Hikikomori are shut ins, those who no longer wish to be part of the world. It's a fascinating thing psychologically and there isn't much about it in fiction, so I was glad to find this book. I even thought I might like it, but I didn't expect to like it quite so much. It's a quiet work of sheer beauty, mesmerizing narrative with profoundly flawed protagoni ...more
Apr 26, 2014 rachel marked it as abandoned
Abandoning this one around page 50. It comes with a heavy heart.

I'm extremely fascinated by the ideas of, as the jacket flap says, the "risk of intimacy" and "whether another woman can bring a husband back to his wife." I've been emotionally cheated on, been the unwitting other woman in a monogamous relationship (more than once, thank you internet), been the third party in an non-monogamous relationship, been invited to be a part of a menage a trois with a couple I am friends with (I declined b
Deborah Gray
Jul 08, 2012 Deborah Gray rated it it was amazing
I am in literary heaven lately. I have had the joy of reading such transcendent books that they all deserve the highest accolades, and this one is no exception.

Hikikomori is the name in Japan for a person who retreats from the world after a tragedy. In this case, Thomas and his wife live in New York and lost their young son in an instant to what was considered an unavoidable accident, but Thomas blames himself and has stayed cloistered in his small room for three years. His wife, Silke, has tri
Jun 08, 2014 Sonja rated it did not like it
You just see 'ultimate male fantasy' fulfilled in this Haruki Murakami-esque --only superficially, though--tale, and why people liked it, if they did. This remotely reminded me of another half-done and shallow work that came out a decade or so ago--Jiro Adachi's YA (--ish) novel--The Island of Bycicle.. something.. I can't even remember the title exactly. Still I clearly remember that the novel also made me barf for its male fantasy imposed upon the same kind of cardboard cutout Asian female tou ...more
Nov 11, 2013 Camie rated it it was ok
Hikikomori means closing oneself off from the outside world in Japanese. Thomas Tessler has locked himself away in his room after the tragic death of his young son while under his care. This almost total isolation ( except for midnight mini -mart excursions) goes on for almost three years , as his wife Silke apparently goes on about her life in the rest of the house. Finally in total desperation , Silke makes one last attempt to salvage their marriage by hiring a "rental sister" Megumi. Megumi, ...more
Heather Fineisen
Nov 09, 2012 Heather Fineisen rated it really liked it
I have not read Hikikomori and the Rental Sister before. Anywhere. Jeff Backhaus has written something I haven't read before. Not just because this is his debut. Backhauus has created something fresh and relevant through his story of a man who has become a hikikomori after the death of his young son. As defined from, "Hikikomori literally means “withdrawal” in Japanese and is used both as a noun and as an adjective. Though there are differing opinions as to the precise nature of hikiko ...more
May 15, 2016 L.A. rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ugh. Just...ugh.

I'm not quite sure what Backhaus was trying to do here, but it didn't work. I can live with the fact that none of these people are very likable. What bothers me is how much it reads like some guy's fantasy about what it would be like to have sex with a Japanese girl, with a flimsy plot thrown around it.

Thomas (pronounced To-MAAAHS, because of course it is) has been living in his bedroom for the past three years, much to the despair of his wife, Silke. Because apparently therapeut
Chihoe Ho
Jan 12, 2013 Chihoe Ho rated it really liked it
"Hikikomori" is a social phenomenon where individuals acutely withdraw from society and lead a solitary life within the confines of their own home. It is recognized by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in definable terms, and has such a rippling effect on those connected to hikikomoris, and on the fabric of Japanese society, that there are professionals who work towards helping such recluses out of their isolation.

Jeff Backhaus writes of a hikikomori living in New York. Thomas
Jan 28, 2013 Gaele rated it really liked it
Retreating in grief and hiding to lick your wounds is not an uncommon phenomenon, but when that retreat progresses to an unhealthy isolation and can last for years, who are you indulging, and who is indulging you in your retreat from life. Just one of the several questions brought forward on the reading of this book. First I needed to check several sources to get the best feeling for a very Japanese idea that does not always translate well. Hikkomori: the closing off of oneself from the outside ...more
Sep 13, 2014 Kurt rated it liked it

The bones of the story. Thomas blames himself for the accidental death of his young son, then locks himself away for 3 years in his bedroom. His beautiful wife, Silke, is forced to carry on without him, daily, nightly, begging and pleading for him to rejoin her in their life – albeit a childless existence now, irreparably wounded. After 3 years of this inadvertent, emotional abuse, Silke hires Megumi, a young, Japanese immigrant, to act as “Rental Sister,” a surrogate of sorts, in order to coax
Jan 17, 2013 Beverly rated it liked it
This was a 3+ read for me.

Hikikomori and the Rental Sister paints a graceful portrait of individuals traumatized by grief and unhinged by guilt. Thomas Tessler was happy with his life until the death of his young son three years ago. Needing just one day to be alone with his grief turns into three years of living within himself behind the dead bolt of his room. Thomas is “hikikomori” – a Japanese phenomenon of complete social withdrawal by turning inwardly and isolating one’s self. Silke, Thomas
Mar 12, 2013 Megan rated it it was amazing
After reading lots of YA and kids stuff, which I love, it was not too bad to get into bed with a grown up book. This is an odd story. Really odd. Man loses young son and locks himself in the bedroom for 3 years. Odder yet is that his wife sticks around cooking dinner for herself and talking to him through the door. At times she's shouting, at times she's bringing home a tumble buddy to try and make him jealous enough to come out and fight for her. Apparantly, in Asian cultures, people with agoro ...more
Jan 20, 2013 Andrew rated it liked it
A colleague rightly pointed out that this intriguing read is in the style of Murakami and Ishiguro: elegantly crafted prose that may still only have a limited audience. Thomas Tessler has, in response to a family tragedy, withdrawn into his room for three years. Through a local Japanese bakery, Thomas' wife comes to recognize his plight, apparently common in Japan, as requiring a particular response. She hires Megumi, a young Japanese woman grappling with her own emotional pain, to help her husb ...more
Doriana Bisegna
Mar 15, 2014 Doriana Bisegna rated it it was ok
I had a hard time buying into this story. A man refuses to come out of his room due to a tragic incident that occurred in his life and his wife accepts this for three years. Not only does she accept this hermit for three years, she hires a beautiful, Japanese woman to try to lure him out of his room and become a husband again. What ensues is mind boggling, crazy, totally unbelievable and I just kept asking myself....who in their right mind would ever do that? If the story was set in Japan where ...more
Jan 15, 2013 Kaye rated it it was amazing
Hikikomon and the rental Sister explore a fascinating cultural phenomenon of hikikomori. Found to be unique to Japan, a million young people, mostly male, withdraw from the world. Most do not leave their rooms. Some will roam only at night. Many live in their bedrooms for years. Yet, this hikikomori is American, and he lives in New York City.

His wife elects to bring in a ‘rental sister’ seeking to help her husband using a traditional Japanese cure. Both women can see the sadness within Thomas.
Jun 16, 2013 Holly rated it really liked it
This book was fascinating partly because it was so out of the realm of my experience, and partly because I thought it was very sensitively written. I found the main characters, Thomas and Megumi, full, rich and complexly wrought. (Silke, the long-suffering wife, not so much.)
I've heard of hikikomori, the Japanese phenonmenon, but it was a very abstract concept. Jeff Backhaus did a very good job of bringing it to life -- why someone like Thomas would/could retreat from the world. I suppose with t
Dec 07, 2012 Janis rated it it was ok
This novel is about social withdrawal (hikikomori is a Japanese term referring to those who choose extreme isolation). The hikikomori in this story is an American man who retreats to his room, only sneaking out late at night to buy food. His wife hires a “rental sister” – in Japan, these outreach counselors sometimes succeed in bringing the isolated one back into the world – and their relationship forms the backbone of the story. Though I found the premise interesting, I felt that the groundwork ...more
Dec 12, 2012 Iejones rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this debut. The pathos of the principle character explored the fragility of the human heart and mind. While the person sought to help him needed as much help herself. Great story about the human heart and the scars acquired during life - how do wounds heal and how does one navigate guilt and shame?? Backhaus teases out an answer - I agree with his conclusion
Linda Hali
Jul 08, 2012 Linda Hali rated it really liked it
Advance reader copy from a new author. Really pretty wonderful - a quiet narrative that is still
emotional and looks at loss, intimacy, how to place yourself in a world that sometimes hurts you.
VAguely and pleasantly erotic, at times, mostly very tender.
Sep 01, 2012 Abby rated it really liked it
I started out unsure on this one and couldn't recall where I had first read about it, but around half way in, I came to really appreciate the voice. Very unique. Well done.
Emily Crowe
Sep 07, 2012 Emily Crowe rated it liked it
I'd never heard of the hikikomori phenomenon in Japan until I was at BEA in June and the folks at Algonquin were telling me about this book on their winter list. Totally bizarre and fascinating!
Sep 18, 2014 Chloe rated it really liked it
Finished in less than a day...captivating read.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 01, 2016 Chtitepuce rated it liked it
Hikikomori est un roman court sur la mort, la vie et sur nos rapports avec les autres. Je n’ai ni aimé, ni détesté ce roman, les personnages m’ont laissé de marbre, à part une petit gêne, leur histoire ne m’a pas ému, mais j’ai apprécié le travail de l’auteur sur les mœurs du Japon.

Christa Torrens
Oct 21, 2016 Christa Torrens rated it it was ok
Interesting concept stifled by unbelievable plot turns and stiff characters that did not ring true. Megumi in particular seemed written as an object: a sex toy who falls in love with the man she is helping emerge from self-enforced social isolation, apparently by sleeping with him. The story uncomfortably recreates the Asian sex kitten stereotype, without irony or analysis. Some of the writing was nicely done, but not enough to overcome the negatives of the book.
Ellen Kehs
Nov 20, 2016 Ellen Kehs rated it it was ok
I was not a fan of this book. I wanted to like it more but I felt it was too predictable. And I felt like everything that I predicted would happen did it and a lot of it just made me angry with the characters behavior.
Yuck. Stupid male sex fantasy committed to paper. I thought I chose a novel about grief, intimacy, and the human spirit. No. Just some guy who wants to bang an Asian girl.

What a waste of paper, ink, time, money, LIFE.
Dec 31, 2016 Céline rated it really liked it
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Jeff Backhaus has worked as a cook, an art director, and a professional pilot. He has lived and worked in Korea, and now lives in New York.
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“The worst kind of loneliness is when you're unable to be where you want to be, where you wouldn't have to be alone.” 5 likes
“The wasted life, we all think it's a shame, but what about the full life, what about the full life that can never be full enough, the life full by every measure but time?” 1 likes
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