Catfish Rolling Debut novel Clara Kumagai

Debut novel ‘Catfish Rolling’ by Clara Kumagai. Image via Twitter @AdnanEden.

Debut young adult novel explores grief through Japanese folklore

Clara Kumagai has made waves in the book world with the release of her debut novel, ‘Catfish Rolling’, a powerful YA novel inspired by Japanese folklore.

Catfish Rolling Debut novel Clara Kumagai

Debut novel ‘Catfish Rolling’ by Clara Kumagai. Image via Twitter @AdnanEden.

The book on everyone’s lips and on everyone’s bookshelf at the moment is the debut young adult novel Catfish Rolling by Clara Kumagai. Filled with magic, fantasy and unforgettable characters, this is not a novel to miss!

Catfish Rolling follows the story of Sora, a young girl whose home has been destroyed by an earthquake. As Sora and her father try to put their lives back together, disaster strikes again when Sora’s father goes missing. Now, she has no choice but to venture into forbidden spaces to find him.

Do not be fooled by the young adult label of this book. This is far cry from a shallow book for teenagers. With tender explorations of grief and trauma, Catfish Rolling is an incredibly powerful novel that everyone should read.

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Image via Twitter @JoLidds.

This novel initially intrigued me with what looked to be like a unique take on Japanese folklore mixed with mystery and magic, but Catfish Rolling turned out to be so much more than this. An unexpected element in the novel was its incredible exploration of trauma and grief. These themes gave the story a depth beyond what is typical of young adult novels.

Kumagai really shines in her prose. Her writing is unique and has a way of gripping your attention and not letting go. Kumagai’s writing can only be described as beautifully lyrical without being overly flowery.

Catfish Rolling truly deserves all the acclaim it is currently receiving. With stunning prose and strong characters, this novel is a tour de force.


Magic-realism blends with Japanese myth and legend in an original story about grief, memory, time and an earthquake that shook a nation.

There’s a catfish under the islands of Japan and when it rolls the land rises and falls.

Sora hates the catfish whose rolling caused an earthquake so powerful it cracked time itself. It destroyed her home and took her mother. Now Sora and her scientist father live close to the zones – the wild and abandoned places where time runs faster or slower than normal. Sora is sensitive to the shifts, and her father recruits her help in exploring these liminal spaces.

But it’s dangerous there – and as she strays further inside in search of her mother, she finds that time distorts, memories fracture and shadows, a glimmer of things not entirely human, linger. After Sora’s father goes missing, she has no choice but to venture into uncharted spaces within the time zones to find him, her mother and perhaps even the catfish itself…


Clara Kumagai is from Canada, Japan, and Ireland. Her fiction and nonfiction for children and adults has been published in The Irish Times, and The Kyoto Journal among others. Catfish Rolling is her debut novel.

She is a recipient of a We Need Diverse Books Mentorship and was a finalist for the Jim Wong-Chu Emerging Writers Award in 2020. She currently lives and works in Tokyo.

Catfish Rolling is published by Bloomsbury Publishing and is available for purchase from Exclusive Books stores for R255.