Diversity, Edelweiss, Fiction, Illness, Other-cultures, Society

An Endearing Story About Loneliness, Illness And… Cake Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa

If you’re looking for a book to warm up your heart on a cold winter evening, Sweet Bean Paste is the book for you. While being endearing and light, it also tackles important subjects of lifelong illness, alienation, loneliness and learning to accept your life. Without further ado, I give you my reasons to read Sweet Bean Paste.

Sweet Bean Paste

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★★★★✬  4.5 stars

Sentaro is kind of a selfish prick who works a dead-end job because he owes the people who took him in after he got out of jail for selling some pot. In Japan (yes. People sell pot there too. It’s not an anime wonderland.)

Obviously, Sentaro is not happy about his life and he coudn’t care less for the Sweet Bean confectionery he makes. He just wants to get his ‘indenture’ overwith and go do something meaningful.

What he doesn’t know is that ‘meaningful’ is waiting right around the corner. And it’s waiting in the form of an old lady who comes into his shop, demanding to be hired for scrap so she could make sweet bean paste.

Reluctantly, Sentaro hires her and it turns out that she makes the best sweet bean paste in the world. Day after day, he is apprenticed by the old lady to strive to be better, to do things for different reasons than he used to. He starts actually loving his work.

All up to the day that someone notices that his helped lady has gnarled fingers and has possibly had Hansen’s disease… Trouble hits, and Sentaro needs to realize what’s important to him in this life, where his beliefs lie, and ultimately, where his heart is.

It’s So Heartwarming

This is everything you might have wanted for an evening when you’re feeling a little sad. It’s written in a really nice, easy to read and cheerful tone. Ultimately, the main characters inspire you, no matter who they are – the old lady who had to deal with life-long isolation or the deadbeat who starts making it back to life. They are all relatable and you end up loving them.

Important Topics

One of the primary reasons this book was written was to shed some light on the situation of Hansen’s disease patients in Japan (formerly known as leprosy.) And it’s a pretty sad situation, to be honest. I don’t really know how this disease was handled in the rest of the world, but this is the second book on Hansen’s in Japan that I’ve read, and I’m surprised that this even happened in the 20th century. The patients were treated horribly, separated from their whole families and not allowed any freedom even decades after they were completely cured. The isolation law was only repealed in 1995. This is when most of you were already born! People might have still been jailed over being ill while you were a child. Can you imagine that? There remains a certain stigma about this disease still, and I believe this book helps shed some light on all of this.

So Much Love For Cake!

Gosh, this book and cake… It talks about all sorts of cake! One of the main characters has been making confectionery for over 50 years, so she has a lot of stuff to say about it. Japanese, French and other delicacies are always being mentioned. Truly mouthwatering.

Character Growth

I loved Sentaro’s character growth. It’s really inspiring to see a selfish prick turn into a person who actually cares what becomes of an abandoned elderly lady. It’s also a coming of age story for Sentaro – and I believe many of us can relate to having a dead end job, not knowing where to go or what to do with our lives – a lot of us have been in those situations.

It’s A Quick Adorable Read

This is not a literary monster that will weigh your shoulders down. I read it in an evening or two. It’s the perfect read to go with cocoa on a windy November night!

I thank the publisher for giving me an early copy of the book in exchange to my honest review. You can purchase the book through Book Depository here and buying through this link supports my blog.

Have you read anything about Hansen’s disease before? And, stupid question – do you like reading about cake??

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4 years ago

I love ur review! Its so detailed and exciting.
I’ve been thinking of nominating u for the liebster award. But I wanted to ask you first cause I know some bloggers don’t like it. If ur ok with it, I’ll go ahead and nominate u.

Best of luck!

Paul Liadis
4 years ago

Thanks for recommending the book. It does sound sweet (pun intended). 🙂

Lashaan Balasingam
4 years ago

Wonderful review, Evelina. Sounds like a book that could soothe the soul and make you feel emotions in their purest forms! 😀

4 years ago


4 years ago

This sounds really wonderful. I am all for characters growing and changing for the better over the course of a book, and cake! I love cake and I love bean paste (especially red bean paste) cakes a lot. Lovely review!

Laura Thomas
4 years ago

You describe this book so delightfully. I might never have given it a second glance. Now, I’d love to read it!

4 years ago

I haven’t read about Hansen’s Disease before, but I do love reading about food in general and cake – what a bonus! I love good food descriptions in books. I’ve always found it appealing. Great review!
Rebecca @ The Portsmouth Review
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4 years ago

Sentaro’s character growth has made me yearning to read this one! I honestly don’t know much about Hansen’s disease so Id love to know more! The old lady sounds so adorable! ♡ This sounds like a lovely comfy winter read!
P.S: This review has such a nice wintry vibe! Love it! ♡♡♡

4 years ago

The cover looks so nice! And after reading your review, I really just need to get my hands on it

Chauncey Rogers
4 years ago

What a lovely blog! The different browns make it look like a cup of cocoa!
I haven’t read this book, but I have heard of Hansen’s disease. I actually did a report on it for a high school health class back in the day. But that was just on the disease–not on any of the social or legal repercussions of being sick. That’s terrible! Shocking, and yet simultaneously not surprising. :/
Great review!

Chauncey Rogers
4 years ago

That’s neat that they made it into a movie. Hopefully the film will bring out those same ideas and emotions as the book apparently did.
It’s unfortunate that people let fear dictate how they’ll treat one another. From what I recall about Hansen’s disease, it isn’t even very contagious. I may be misremembering after all these years, but I recall that it wasn’t especially contagious or dangerous, now that we know better how to manage and treat it.

Jenna @ Falling Letters

Thanks for the recommendation! This does sound like a good book for curling up on the sofa with. I’m really not one for sweets (especially Japanese ones >.<) but I do like Japanese novels, haha.


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