Book Review: What You Are Looking For Is in the Library by Michiko Aoyama, translated from the Japanese by Alison Watts

Michiko Aoyama's "What You Are Looking For Is in the Library," translated by Alison Watts, highlights the exquisite qualities of libraries as places of discovery and connection, celebrating them as heartwarming havens for seekers of stories and wisdom.

Michiko Aoyama's heartwarming novel, "What You Are Looking For Is in the Library," makes the concept of fate seem easy to embrace. At the core of the story is the enigmatic Ms. Komachi, a librarian with a unique ability to guide those seeking direction on a journey of self-discovery through the most surprisingly fitting books. Yet, Aoyama’s wisdom nuggets through the story are the warmest hugs we can expect from a book and reminds us that even deviations from our plans can lead to unforeseen and delightful discoveries.


Michiko Aoyama's "What You Are Looking For Is in the Library" explores self-discovery within a local library. Five characters encounter the wise Ms. Komachi, a librarian with an uncanny knack for recommending life-changing books. Aoyama's enchanting tale celebrates the transformative power of stories and unexpected connections.

Why we loved it

Employing magical realism to illustrate how a single encounter with a wise librarian can transform lives, Aoyama weaves a tale around five interconnected characters in this book. These multi-faceted characters are flawed but skilfully-crafted and are each at a different crossroads in their lives. Ranging from a recent graduate seeking purpose, a new mother struggling to balance her career aspirations and motherhood, and even a newly retired senior feeling adrift after losing the purpose of his life, they all have big questions and even bigger decisions to make. Unfulfilled by his stable job, there is also one who secretly yearns to start his own business and another who lacks direction and fortunately stumbles into the library to find solace. The complexities of these characters are delicately portrayed by the author and skilfully emphasized by the translator. The detailed, curiosity-provoking writing style also offers a deeply personal experience as we are reminded of our own desires, hopes, and dreams while witnessing their journeys unfolding.

What You Are Looking For Is in the Library front cover

The library, under the watchful eye of the mysterious Ms. Komachi, becomes a haven for the patrons and her seemingly random book recommendations act as catalysts for change. Aoyama masterfully employs the interconnected narrative to showcase the ripple effect of these encounters. The characters' reflections on Ms. Komachi's question,

"What are you looking for?"

becomes ours as well, prompting introspection and a renewed sense of possibility. If you only have the courage to pick up this warm and delightful tale, you might even be one of the few lucky ones to know the right answer by the end of this book. If you shed a few tears, the book will have succeeded in its mission of pointing you in your destined direction. The author’s unique blend of magical realism and relatable characters makes this a perfect choice for those yearning for a sign to chase their dreams.

It might be easy to think that the book is laced with some kind of magical wisdom, but more importantly, it also teaches readers to shine a light on the power of their minds in addition to simply believing in the power of books.

"You may say that it was the book, but it's how you read a book that is most valuable, rather than any power it might have itself."

Perfectly encapsulating the message of the book, this simple truth reminds us that the transformative power lies not just in the stories themselves, but in our willingness to open our hearts and minds to their possibilities. After all, beautiful things happen when we follow our dreams.

What You Are Looking For Is in the Library front cover

While Ms. Komachi’s patrons have the good fortune of meeting her kind-hearted self for a turnaround, Aoyama’s message extends far beyond their journeys. This enchantingly poignant tale serves as a gentle nudge for readers to embark on their own explorations. Whether you’re grappling with the aftereffects of the pandemic, yearning to break free from a stagnant routine, or simply seek a spark of inspiration, this book offers a comforting refuge along with the potential for a transformative self-discovery. Its appearance on the recommendation lists of several leading publications globally further emphasizes the book’s universal appeal.

Disguised as a charming tale of bibliotherapy, “What You Are Looking For Is in the Library” is Michiko Aoyama’s subtle exploration of human nature. The novel’s core message is indeed a timeless one; the key to personal growth might often lie within the pages of an unexpected book, waiting to be discovered by the destined and courageous few willing to turn the page.

About the Author

Michiko Aoyama was born in Honshu, Japan and has previously worked as a reporter for a Japanese newspaper based in Sydney. Having moved back to Japan now, she has also worked as a magazine editor in Tokyo.

A photo of Michiko Aoyama smiling.
Photo Credit: The Wandering Wordsmith

With her work having previously won the 1st Miyazakimoto Prize and the 13th Tenryu Literary Prize, this is her English-language debut.The world of literature was blessed when “What You Are Looking For is in The Library” became a Japanese bestseller. Already translated into more than fifteen languages, this charmingly cozy novel was also shortlisted for the prestigious Japan Booksellers’ Award in 2021.

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