20-something and uncertain about her future, Florentyna Leow is exhilarated when an old acquaintance offers her an opportunity for work and cohabitation in a little house in the hills of Kyoto.
Florentyna begins a new job as a tour guide, taking tourists on elaborate and expensive trips around Kyoto’s cultural hotspots. Amidst the busy tourist traps and overrun temples, Florentyna develops her own personal map of the city: a favourite smoky jazz kissa; a top-shelf katsuobushi loving cat; an elderly lady named Yamaguchi-san, who shares her sweets and gives Florentyna a Japanese name.
Meanwhile, her relationship with her new companion develops an intensity as they live and work together. Their little kitchen, the epicenter of their shared life, overlooks a community garden dominated by a fruitful persimmon tree. Their relationship burns bright, but seasons change, the persimmon tree out back loses its fruit, and things grow strange between the two women.
Praise for How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart
‘I would let Leow’s writing take me anywhere, but in these pages Kyoto transpires to be a particularly meaningful and enchanted destination for her to transport her reader. Friendship, food, language, tour-guiding, and all the myriad kinds of love—whatever she’s addressing in the moment, her fragrant, juice-filled prose is coated in a crispy-soft casing of wisdom, self awareness and compassion.’ – Polly Barton, author of Fifty Sounds‘To read Florentyna’s essays felt like someone saw the soul of my past self and created art with it. It was also a grave mistake on my part, to read the last 30 pages on the internet and to let a few people witness my emotional breakdowns, which occurred every 3 paragraphs or so. I’m very thankful that this small book has landed into my hands as it is now one of those books where a part of me feels very very seen.’ – Katrina, The Imperfectionista
‘How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart, as an essay collection should be, is greater than the sum of its parts… This is a book with the power to help one reconnect to one’s own life and story with increased tenderness and compassion.’ – Eric Margolis for Metropolis Japan
‘Leow’s collection is a beautifully written exploration of friendship, making a city your home and heartbreak through food writing, travel, cultural and social explorations and elements of memoir. It should be too much for such a slim volume, but it works perfectly.’ – Sophie for Books, Burgers and Backpacks
‘Leow has a way with words that carried me into each moment so evocatively that I devoured this short novel in one session: there is a lyricism to every description she delivers…The writing is beautiful, the language evocative and the experience of reading this one to remember. I definitely recommend getting hold of a copy’ – Bookaholic Bex
‘It took approximately one sentence for me to know this was going to be one of my favourite books of this year. Leow’s storytelling is simply exquisite and I could envision the settings and moment so vividly in my mind that I barely wanted to put the book down to write this. It’s a book that I want to both devour immediately but also savour slowly to try and appreciate the work Leow has put into it’ – Rhi, @thewordslikedust
“I think what she was really mourning was the temporary nature of life. We’re nostalgic for golden times we can never get back…My favourite essays were “Persimmons,” “A Bowl of Tea,” “A Rainy Day in Kyoto” and “Egg Love” – prove you care for someone by learning how they like their eggs.” – Rebecca Foster, Bookish Beck
“I loved how this collection showcased the how life isn’t forever, and that parts of life aren’t always plain sailing. I also really enjoyed how this collection took you through Kyoto via her job as a tour guide. Whilst the essays weren’t in chronological order I felt that this added to the personal element of the collection, you could really feel what Leow was going through and the nostalgia felt. HKBYH is beautifully lyrical and poignant book.” – Millie, @millies.reading
“Set against the stunning backdrop of Kyoto, this book follows Leow through the breakdown of a friendship. This is one of my favourite themes for books to explore, and Leow captured the simultaneous heartbreak and beauty of friendship perfectly. I found myself laughing and sobbing in equal measures whilst reading this book, demonstrating how hard these 100 pages hit…Overall, this was a fantastic read, overflowing with compassion and care. Both Leow and The Emma Press should be immensely proud of this work. ” – Imogen, @imogens.corner
“The book does not gush about Japan, which I appreciate, nor does it tear it down. She never holds back when it comes to her own emotions. But when it comes to the outside world in which she positions herself as an onlooker, she is generous, funny, blunt as she needs to be, mindful of where she stands.
The persimmon tree. Just read how she writes about the persimmon tree. You will fall in love.” – Yuki Tejima, @booknerdtokyo
“The best bits of writing in this book were those pieces of prose that were the most thoughtful, poetic and beautifully descriptive. Leow’s depiction of the persimmon tree and its fruit were particularly exquisite…Overall, How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart is a well-done, thought-provoking and passionate read – and it might just break your heart too.” – Ilina Jha for Redbrick Magazine
“This writing is so beautiful it makes you feel tipsy and warm like a sherry at Christmas” – Kathryn Williams, singer, songwriter & novelist @kathwilliamsuk
“I loved to see a story of friendship told as the one of a relationship and found myself craving persimmons. I laughed a few times at the tourists too!” – Margaux Vialleron, author of The Yellow Kitchen @margauxvlln
“I’ve just finished reading ‘How Kyoto Breaks Your Heart’ and absolutely loved it; I found it so atmospheric and transporting and couldn’t wait to get back to it and keep reading. Florentyna writes so beautifully- I found the tone of her writing so warm and empathetic, which are my favourite things in a writer!” – Emily Itami, author of Fault Lines
“I’ve been missing Japan so much lately and really couldn’t wait to get back to Florentyna’s book and be transported to Kyoto, and her observations about friendships and people were so wise and true. I can’t wait to read more of her writing.” – Emily Paine