‘Little Boxes’, Addressing Bereavement

In this novel with a fantastical quality,Yoko Ogawa explores the topic of grief experienced by parents who have lost their child.


WordsClémence Leleu

© Actes Sud

What do we find in all those little glass boxes that once served to protect relics in the museum of local history? This is the question that runs through the beginning of this novel with qualities that verge on the fantastic. Author Yoko Ogawa tells the story of a woman who lives in a former nursery school, a life where everything is in miniature—doors, windows, tables and light switches—and where the occupant has not cared to adjust things to an adult scale, which sometimes makes her feel as if her body is shrinking. 

In the novel, the narrator meets a dentist who has changed career to become a violin maker, a baritone who only expresses himself through singing, and a woman who now only takes a certain set of paths, which are always identical. They all have one thing in common: they have all lost a child and want to somehow make contact with them for a moment. 


Cherishing the absent

Petites boîtes (‘Little Boxes’) addresses grief, and the weight of those who are absent and yet who remain terribly present through the empty space they have left behind. In this novel, Yoko Ogawa stresses the importance of memory and the immeasurable fear of seeing memories fade and the outlines of those once loved become increasingly hazy as time goes by.

Despite this, Petites boîtes, the author’s 26th novel to be translated into French, is not a nostalgic or melancholic tale; while the absent are cherished, life once again, and indeed always, comes to the fore. 


Petites boîtes (2022), a novel by Yoko Ogawa published by Actes Sud (not currently available in English).