By Heidi Simmons

A Separation
by Katie Kitamura

Marriage can be more work than bliss, which is likely one reason the divorce rate in American is so high.  In Katie Kitamura’s A Separation (Riverhead Books, 240 pages), a woman finds a renewed appreciation for the man she once loved.

An unnamed young woman narrates the story.  She and her husband, Christopher, decided to separate after five years of marriage without telling anyone.  He has been gone for weeks and they have not communicated since the decision to go their separate ways.

One morning, the young wife is contacted by her “mother-in-law” asking about her son.  She is worried about him because he wanted to talk with her about something important, but he never called back.  Now the mother is worried.  She asks her daughter-in-law to find him.


The young wife has no idea where Christopher is and tries not to sound completely ignorant of her husband’s whereabouts.  The mother-in-law clearly knows more than the wife and sends her to a hotel in Greece where he was last in touch.

Keeping her secret, the still married young woman goes to Greece to find her – soon to be — ex-husband.  When she arrives, no one seems to know where he is.  He hasn’t been at the hotel for days.  In fact, they must move his things because the room is reserved for another couple.

Not mentioning to anyone the truth about her marital status, the wife soon gets the impression that the women at the hotel know exactly who her husband is, and he did not mention he was married.

Soon, the young wife hears that a body has been found and it appears it may be her husband.  Now she must identify the body and tell her in-laws the bad news about their son’s death.  She also has to consider just how much to tell the authorities about their failed relationship.

The premise of this book really got my attention.  With all the “Gone Girl” knock-offs, I was excited to see what happens to this couple, especially the wife, when a husband goes missing without a trace. 

The idea that no one knows the personal situation or business of the couple adds suspense to the story.  And a thriller set in Greece intrigued me as a reader.

Unfortunately, this story is not thrilling — or very mysterious.  Well-written does not always mean the pages contain a well-developed narrative. 

The woman sharing her story is very cerebral and analytical.   The character is constantly observing and judging those around her.  However, she is not very introspective. 

As the wife considers her relationship with Christopher, she does very little to actually find or investigate her husband’s disappearance.  I kept thinking, “Ask a question already!”

A hotel desk girl and taxi driver seem to know something about Christopher, but the wife does little in the way of probing what that might be.  She looks at them suspiciously and starts to believe they might be involved in his murder, but she never tells the authorities or pursues them as killers.

The wife is never a suspect and there is no ambiguity that suggests she might have killed him herself.  In fact, there is no investigation of any kind into the mystery of the husband’s death.

I did like that the narrator works as a literary translator who admits that sometimes she has difficulty interpreting meaning and understanding context.  How could she understand what is really going on when she doesn’t know the language?   She can only do her best to pick-up clues from eye contact, body language and intense emotional outbursts. 

This psychological aspect of the wife worked thematically for me.  She is emotionally detached and somewhat clueless about human behavior.  Soon, it becomes clear that is one reason her husband wanted to separate.

I wanted to discover that the wife is either an unreliable narrator leading the reader off course, or was correct in her observations and possible theory.  Either way it would have been more compelling and would have complicated the mystery.  But neither happens.

Finally, feeling some guilt, the young woman inherits her husband’s wealth and finds that true love may not be something actually attainable.

Clearly, author Kitamura is an intelligent writer, but the story not only lacks mystery, it fails to have the emotional intensity that certainly goes with a deteriorating marriage.