Cherry Blossom Eyes by S.T. Cartledge
“The sun came up a cherry blossom and burst its rose gold light into the sky.” – Opening line
The Orphanarium by S.T. Cartledge (my review here) is among my favorite bizarro novels and one of the most unique books I have ever read. So I was eager to dive into his surreal Young Adult (YA) novella Cherry Blossom Eyes. Contained within this tiny book (130 pages in large font), I found the same poetic brilliance as in his latter work. Cartledge possesses a gift. He can take the process of reading a book and turn it into a dream, where you’re unsure where the words end and the subconscious begins.
It all starts on the picturesque Isle of Flowers, an island of warm cherry blossoms and cold lotuses. Here we find Margot and Blanko—two inseparable friends who have come of age this year. They can now witness the ceremonies of the adults, revolving around the “tourists” that haunt their shores. These are, in fact, faceless inhuman creatures with fins and glossy black skin. By touching a human, a tourist can assume their appearance, sending ripples of fear and paranoia among the islanders.
Cherry Blossom Eyes starts as the search for who is and who isn’t a tourist, but becomes something far more complex and deep. Despite my adoration of Cartledge’s work, the YA label made me hesitate. I soon learned, however, that the age level took away none of the power of Cartledge’s words, nor the beauty they created. The theme was simpler, but nonetheless potent. The book’s commentary on xenophobia and identity was a whisper, rather than a conk on the head.
Ultimately, despite its beautiful construction and poetic prose, Cherry Blossom Eyes isn’t my type of story. The beginning was slow—too slow even for me. I imagine if I was a casual reader and unfamiliar with Cartledge’s work, I may have procrastinated in reading it. I’m glad I didn’t, for the ending made it all worth it.
I interview S.T. Cartledge here.