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Hikikomori and the Rental Sister: A Novel
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Hikikomori and the Rental Sister: A Novel

3.5 of 5 stars 3.50  ·  rating details  ·  769 ratings  ·  148 reviews
hikikomori, n. h?kik?'mo?ri; literally pulling inward; refers to those who withdraw from society.

Inspired by the real-life Japanese social phenomenon called hikikomori and the professional “rental sisters” hired to help, Hikikomori and the Rental Sister is about an erotic relationship between Thomas, an American hikikomori, and Megumi, a young Japanese immigrant hiding fro
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published January 8th 2013 by Algonquin Books
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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
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
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
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
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
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
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

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
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
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
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
Chihoe Ho
"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
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
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.
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
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
This book scared me a little.

I understood Silke's point of view, of course I did. If my husband decided to close himself into a bedroom not coming out for the last three years after our child died I would of course want to do everything I could to help him. This woman who can help by spending a lot of time with him is attractive, is young, is in his room when I myself cannot go in? I could deal with that.

I understood Megumi as well. She had been through this before in Japan with her brother and
Finished in less than a day...captivating read.
I started off really liking this novel about a deeply depressed man quilt ridden over the death of his young son. His wife, at her wit's end after three years of her husband's isolation in his room, follows a Japanese tradition and hires a "rental sister" to help her husband back into the world. The premise was that a brother and sister would be able to speak more openly and freely to one another.

After only a few visits I lost interest in the story as the relationship between the deeply depress
I really wanted to like this novel. And I did, for the most part. What I didn't like was how quickly it moved. In my mind, and maybe it's because I read it quickly, the progress of the Thomas Tessler happened within days, not months. There was a line that said something along the lines of (paraphrasing here), "A few months ago you wouldn't even talk to me." After reading the word months, I was shocked. Of course it makes sense, no one could go from living in their room for three years to being o ...more
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
Hikikomori is the Japanese word for those individuals who shut themselves away from society. They are usually young or new adults and they can stay for years isolated from even their friends and family. This book is about Thomas Tessler who has spent the last 3 years of his life locked in his room only coming out at night to buy food he can eat as it, or cook in his microwave. His wife Silke lives her life and though she has tried all she can she can not convince him to come out. The catalyst fo ...more
Doriana Bisegna
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
The Loopy Librarian
Immediately compelling. Emotionally gripping. Instantly there is a mystery with a man who has locked himself in his room for three years, refusing to come out (hikikomori). The book was extremely intimate, sometimes uncomfortably so as the reader is slowly drawn into the pain, frustration, and grief of the three primary characters. The story is beautiful in its compassion and healing as well as forgiveness and insight. What the writer shares about the Korean and Japanese culture is of particular ...more
Linda Hali
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.
A well-written, interesting book about a Japanese phenomenon known as hikikomori, where (typically) men remain holed up in their rooms. In the Rental Sister, Thomas becomes an American hikikomori after a personal tragedy for which he cannot forgive himself. After three years of never leaving his room, his wife turns to Megumi, a Japanese immigrant, and a rental sister, for help. The relationships among the characters are at the heart of this compelling story. Each character draws you in and you ...more
Emily Crowe
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!
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.
Evanston Public  Library
Hikikomori are a phenomenon in Japan, adolescents and adults who refuse to leave their rooms to engage with the world. Thomas, burdened by enormous guilt, has retreated to his bedroom in his New York apartment for three years. His patient wife, lonely and sad, has tried for those three years to bring him back out. Finally, she hires a young Japanese woman to entice Thomas to leave his room. Megumi brings her own terrible sadness to the task, including the pain from her older brother's withdrawal ...more
I received a copy of this novel through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme in exchange for an honest review. This review in its entirety was originally posted at

The Rental Sister is an interesting novel looking at profound internal grief and the way it affects people, as well as the gradual connection that people can develop over the course of their struggle to move beyond their personal suffering. On one level, this novel is
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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.
More about Jeff Backhaus...
Your Lovely Small Face: An Algonquin E-Short Hikikomori And The Rental Sister

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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.” 4 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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