How Do You Live? A Japanese Wonder

This week on the blog, we’re talking about the book How Do You Live? by Genzaburo Yoshino, translated from Japanese by Bruno Navasky with foreword by Neil Gaiman (Algonquin Young Readers). We welcome Mariana Ruiz with her review of the book and also invite you to follow the link at the bottom to read Deborah Iwabuchi’s interview with the translator over on the SCBWI Japan blog.

Review by Mariana Ruiz

First published in 1937, this book inspired Hayao Miyazaki out of retirement.

Genzaburō Yoshino has crafted a classic – a book that may or may not be intended for children – that should be read alongside teens and pre-teens who are starting to really think about the world and their place in it. The tone and whole-hearted way it is written reminds me a lot of another book with important questions for the young, even though it was written 150 years ago: Heart, by Edmondo De Amicis, a beautiful and compelling piece of literature. The foreword by Neil Gaiman included in this novel is truly heart-warming and makes you want to read the book even more.

There are two narrative voices inside the book: Copper is fifteen, and is just learning about friendship and loss, because his father has died. Then there is his uncle’s journal, an enthusiastic voice that wants to explain everything to him, from the chains that unite us as human beings to the encouragement to ask the right questions about life and relationships. It is his uncle who has given him the nickname Copper. Like his namesake Copernicus, he must look to the stars, and use his discoveries about the heavens, earth, and human nature to answer the question of how he will live from then on.

“So what was Newton’s big discovery? It was to show that if you link these two forces – gravity working on objects on earth, and gravitation working between celestial bodies – it becomes clear that they have the same nature”. The uncle is full of explanations like this one about the world which he tries hard to convey to his nephew. Copper, in turn, is full of thoughts and feelings, and his uncle’s words help him make sense of them all.

Uncle thinks Newton had done something indeed extraordinary: he had thought about an apple, not falling from the sky, but way above it, piercing the atmosphere, and had a great revelation. Just like Newton and Copernicus, one can think of oneself from a distance, and strive to imagine greater things, such as what makes us human, what connects us and works as a sort of gravitational and emotional force.

One can really think about the pushes and pulls of that connection and how it shapes us and shapes our place inside the world.

Featured in prominent lists for books in translation for kids, this book is getting a lot of attention now because animator Hayao Miyazaki has called it his favorite childhood book, and has announced plans to make it into a film (even though he has retired).

Friendship, school, cross roads and connections, How Do You Live? stands the test of time and proves itself a classic of Japanese literature.


For more information about the translator, Bruno Navasky, and his work on this novel, check out an interview with him on the SCBWI Japan Translation blog (interview by Deborah Iwabuchi).


An abridged version of this review first appeared on


Mariana Ruiz is a Bolivian children’s author whose articles about comics, art books and YA literature appear first on She works closely with the Bolivian Academy of Children’s literature and is constantly on the lookout for diversity in books.