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Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  525 ratings  ·  109 reviews
Books may be Mayumi Saito’s greatest love and her one source of true pleasure. Forty-one years old, disenchanted wife and dutiful mother, Mayumi’s work as a librarian on a small island off the coast of New England feeds her passion for reading and provides her with many occasions for wry observations on human nature, but it does little to remedy the mundanity of her days. ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published May 26th 2015 by Europa Editions
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Jun 30, 2017 rated it liked it
If you are a brilliant writer but for some extravagant reason don’t want the readers to enjoy your book as much as they could, follow Jennifer Tseng's example:

* Choose a topic which will repel some people right from the start.
At first sight, the main subject of 'Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness' is a sensual love story, starring a middle-aged married librarian and a seventeen-year-old boy. Some status updates and reviews proove that there are readers, who automatically turn their backs at this l
I'm not necessarily saying this is a bad book; it is getting many accolades. But I am saying that I didn't enjoy it or appreciate it. More specifically, I came to feel apathetic about it and eventually annoyed by it.

As I've mentioned in earlier comments, the prose is self-consciously Proustian. (I know self-consciously because at around page 112, this is actually acknowledged by the protagonist/narrator in case you didn't grasp that this is Serious Literature.) The reason the protagonist/author
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I bought this book on impulse on my first trip to a new bookstore downtown (M. Judson) because it checked off quite a few boxes for me - librarian as main character, set on a cold weather island, and put out by an indie press. It sounded like something that would be right up my alley!

The book is told over the course of the year, broken up into seasons, which of course do set the pace for an island. Summer reading, summer patrons, empty winter, etc. This is not a small island as there are tourist
Kristen Shaw
May 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I received this book for free from Goodreads First Reads.

This novel is complex, multi-layered and gorgeous. I have a very complicated relationship with Mayumi, the titular 41-year-old librarian who starts an obsessive affair with a 17-year-old unnamed patron of the library. Complicated, because I see so much of myself in her, including the undesirable aspects. I'm not sure if this is because Tseng is particularly excellent at representing truths central to human experience, or if Mayumi and I ar
May 16, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
With a demanding 4-year-old daughter who has claimed a place in the marital bed, an emotionally and physically distant husband and finding solace between the pages of the books she reads, Mayumi's life seems to lack something she isn't aware of, until someone arrives at the library counter to ignite it.

She develops a fixation on a 17-year-old boy, seducing him and slotting him timetable-like in her already routine, controlled life, as if forbidden love is just another aspect of a carefully plann
Jul 04, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: publisher-gift
Jennifer Tseng is wonderful writer with an incredible ability to manipulate the english language. Tragically, this is a terrible novel with an idiodic plot, weak dialogue and a narrator that I would smash in the face with a shovel were she a real person.

Mayumi is a middle-aged woman with virtually no friends, a young daughter who she spoils pointlessly (she's still breastfeeding at the age of four), and an endless well of rationalization for cheating on her husband with a 17-year old boy. This w
Jeanie Phillips
Jul 03, 2016 rated it it was ok
Recently I was talking with another librarian about librarians who work with fiction writers to verify facts and ensure that they are getting the details right. While reading this book I kept thinking about that conversation, thinking this author needs a librarian! Imagine my surprise when I finished the book and discovered that Jennifer Tseng works at a library...

Mayumi is a 41 year old unhappily married mother and librarian (more on this later) who lives on an island off the coast of Massachus
Jun 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I discovered this book from Book Riot's All the Books podcast. Mayumi is a 41 year old librarian trapped in a loveless marriage who begins an affair with a 17 year old library patron. Tseng's writing is absolutely gorgeous. I'm super irritated that I didn't write down all the passages that made me put the book down and pause in wonder, but if I had done so every time Tseng knocked me off my feet I would never have finished the book. Though the ending was somewhat predictable, the sheer beauty of ...more
Jun 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I am never overly compelled to write reviews, but I think this book deserves attention. Such beautiful prose and precision of language, understated humor and attention to narrative--this combination seems rarer these days. To me, Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness reads as a celebration of life and love in its various forms, and (by pure demonstration) a celebration of what language can do. There is a wonderful balance between subtle humor and alternating seriousness and a sense of the tragic, an i ...more
Rhea Abramson
Jun 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Mothers of sons may not enjoy. Writing is stunning...even her acknowledgments at the end are delicious!
Mayumi is a librarian who lives on an island with a four year old daughter and an unhappy marriage. 'Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness' takes us on her journey through an affair that she has with an underage boy. We get to see the beginning, the middle and the end of their relationship and the affects it has on Mayumi's life.

This book just didn't do it for me, I didn't like anything about it. The writing wasn't terrible but the characters, the plot and the way the author took the story way too
Jul 03, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: first-reads
Original review can be found at

** I received a copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review.**

I really, really struggled with this book. I had many issues with it but the biggest was the relationship between Mayumi and a teenaged boy. It did nothing for me. In fact, it kind of made my stomach turn. There seemed to be no moral dilemma for her even though she was married, had a daughter, and he was more than 20 years her j
Jun 13, 2015 rated it liked it
It's really hard to decide on this novel's rating. Tseng's writing is engaging, lyrical, and moody. However, I did not like any of the characters, or the story at all. The first season/section of the novel was particularly difficult to get through. In Mayumi's narration, I felt like I was privy to the thoughts of a teenager, not a full grown woman. Her immature thoughts and actions were (and continued to be, throughout the entire book) absolutely maddening. Discontent and ennui are both common o ...more
Jun 23, 2016 rated it liked it
This book is allusive and lovely. Tseng both carefully populates her imagined world with beautiful and scrumptious, well-wrought things, and she also alludes to aesthetic traditions that marry erotic voluptuousness with a similar attention to the sensory detail (see her many mentions of Vladimir Nabokov and her allusions to Japanese "floating world" art and fiction). She gets away with some of this preciousness because her frustrated protagonist, Mayumi, is a librarian who tries to understand he ...more
May 29, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2015
I'm not sure how to feel about this book. In a way it takes the premise of Lolita - wherein an adult is obsessed with the image of a child, rather than the child (or in this case, 17 year old) as a person with subjectivity - and puts a positive spin on it. But even though Mayumi explains over and over again the rapture of this illicit relationship, I felt little at all about the relationship. Rather, I was drawn to the depiction of Mayumi's relationship with her daughter and the boy's mother, th ...more
May 25, 2017 rated it liked it
I was on a pendulum reading this, going from "wow, that's a nice bit of writing" to "oh my gosh, can this book BE any more overwritten?" I liked it then didn't like it then liked it again. And so on. So, a 3-star rating from me.

The story of a 41-year-old having an affair with a 17-year-old didn't bug me. I shan't clutch my pearls. I'll read about anything if it has an interesting take, if the writing is good. May's obsession with "the young man" swung from comical to touching, but I suppose that
Jun 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: fans of poetic prose
Some likes:

The extended metaphors, the bold subject matter, the way Tseng immediately normalized a scandalous situation and turned it into "just another love story", the straight-up Martha's Vineyardness of it all.

Some dislikes:
The ending and her use of "When one...". That's it. Those are my two dislikes.

On a personal note, after her author talk, I want to be friends with Jennifer. She pretty much IS the protagonist and I very much liked what she had to say about life on this rock.
Jun 04, 2015 rated it liked it
This book is both frustrating and good... The narrator (41 years old Mayumi) at moments seems so self-important, and the author sometimes chooses complicated words which have more simple and more apt synonyms. Also, there are bunch of redundant descriptive paragraphs and pages. It should have been less than 300 pages long, it should have been 200 pages maximum. The story itself is interesting since it's focusing on obsession from a female point of view, which is rare in literature, and there are ...more
Michelle P.
Jun 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Drowning in so many feels right now. I picked this book up expecting some kind of drama, since it is about a 41 year old woman having an illicit affair with a 17 year old boy, but I was NOT expecting to be be completely blown away by the characters and the storyline. Beautifully written prose that made me stop every few pages just to *think* and allow myself to fully appreciate the words written on the page. Suspenseful all the way to the ending which I was not even anticipating. Literally said ...more
Cristina Hutchinson
Jul 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book had wonderful prose; yet I often found it ostentatious and verbose. The descriptive narration was frequently excessive and repetitive.

I found Mayumi to be a dismal and deranged character. It was impossible to sympathize with her whether over her apparent loveless marriage or her morally wrong affair. Mayumi's references to the mother-son relationship was what really deterred me from liking this book. It was hard to take her romantic relationship seriously when she compared her lover t
Oct 18, 2015 rated it liked it
I struggle with this rating because parts of the book were so enjoyable - mainly the language. But the plot was slow and pointless and the characters were maddeningly unrealistic (how many co workers does Mayumi have to share her relationship with before one of them reports it?, violet!?!). There was so much I could complain about, especially as the book came to a close and the tedium became unbearable, but instead I'm going to focus on the pretty language and the excellent descriptions of the i ...more
I feel like the two things one should really talk about regarding this book are the precisely written poetic language or the taboo love story, both of which are legit compelling, but honestly the thing I couldn't get passed was how terrible a librarian the main character was. This must be how doctors feel when watching Grey's Anatomy.
Jun 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: a select few
Poetic prose and beautiful handling of a challenging premise.
dantheolumona | aviecayl uy
When I had started reading “Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness” by Jennifer Tseng, it somewhat reminded me of “The Faster I Walk, the Smaller I Am”.

The premise of the book had been interesting: a 41-year old librarian being attracted to a 17-year old boy; it immediately captured my attention. The story had been divided into four parts, which comprised of the four seasons; basically, these four divisions were long, and I personally prefer books with short chapters, although I appreciated the breaks
Aug 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
“I have lived on a series of islands and I began as an island: I, an obscure piece of earth, floating choiceless within my mother's sea.”

Mayumi is a woman who was born on an island, who has only lived on islands for the entirety of her life. Now, a 41-year old librarian, lonely and desolate, she herself exists as an inaccessible island to all those around her. A mother, slavishly devoted to a child who has taken her husband's place in their bed, she is inundated by routine, nothing surprising e
May 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful writing, lovely metaphors. I most enjoyed the first season, where Mayumi's infatuation is so carefully detailed. Mayumi is flawed, unique, and human. The plot isn't the strongest - it's a fairly simple story of an affair - but manages to end gracefully. The sex is mostly described indirectly, which fits with the sensitive tone of the book, but enough pleasure is described to help offset what is otherwise often a lonely, longing book. It avoids the traps that fiction about adultery is e ...more
Ed Vansciver
Jun 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Kind of a gender switch update on Lolita. SPOILER ALERT: How the hell could I sympathize with a 41 yr old lonely woman who seduces a 17 yr old she has hardly ever spoken to, but falls for out of lust? I don't know but God help me, I did.
The focus is tightly held on the main character and man does Tseng wring every ounce of emotion, every wild imagining, minor and major guilt feeling, and perhaps most of all, hot, quivering sensuality, attraction and passion. Though it may sound here like a tras
Nicky Enriquez
Feb 17, 2019 rated it it was ok
I kept waiting to discover the rising action of this book. There was none. There was only the steady, uneventful description of a misguided affair - that of which all the characters in the book reacted in a surprisingly nonplussed manner. I found Tseng’s descriptions to be beautiful and intriguing - especially when she writes about food. But I found the entire book to be disappointing and difficult to finish.

I suppose I desire salaciousness when reading about a illicit love affair rather than s
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
I'm not supporting the premise, but I think it's the most beautifully written book I've ever read. It's so poetic and flows so freely with incredible syntax. The emotions drip off the page, and the descriptions of the smallest details are exact and vivid without being tedious. Jennifer Tseng is an incredible author.
Sally Green
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Amazing voice to this narrator, quirky, honest, unabashed. It was just a little slow for me. And there is a factual error in the story-- In Ethan Frome, Maddie doesn't die pursuing her passion (as either Mayumi or another character thinks is a romantic notion)- she is just horribly crippled. A librarian narrator should know this!
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