Every Friday I will be recommending a work of fiction or non-fiction written by a woman who has influenced and shaped my intersectional feminist perspective, with special emphasis on women of colour, women in translation, LGBTQIA women and women of different religions.
‘When I scrutinised love, I still found myself in a world that felt empty’.
In many ways I found Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman (which I reviewed recently) similar to a previous Japanese writer I had read before. Hiromi Kawakami’s second novel, translated into English by Allison Markin Powell, is a beautifully rendered story of an awkward, and introverted young woman who has wound up working in a second-hand junk shop owned by the eccentric and interesting Mr Nakano. A junk shop that sells anything not too high-class or expensive, Mr Nakano has tapped into people’s desire for unnecessary clutter, and it is this backdrop that Kawakami has chosen to introduce the reader to a small, yet fascinating, array of characters who are navigating the difficult terrain of present-day Japanese society.
Like the protagonist in Convenience Store Woman, Hitomi is a shy and awkward individual. Told through the first-person narrative of Hitomi, each chapter relates a specific story of an item from the shop and how it ended up there. Although a rather simple device to tell a tale, Kawakami manages to create a seamless narrative of the intertwining lives of Mr Nakano, Hitomi, the incredibly shy and reserved assistant, Takeo, and Nakano’s unmarried, artistic older sister, Masayo, through the inconspicuous donations that clutter the Nakano shop.
What blossoms in the idiosyncratic thrift shop is a heartwarming, yet frustrating, love story between Hitomi and Takeo. Unlike a traditional tale of love, their relationship is besieged by awkwardness. Neither being one to jump in headfirst and both scared of being hurt, their relationship comes to a screeching halt almost as soon as it begins. However, Hitomi and Takeo’s is not the only interaction that is fraught with difficulties. Kawakami highlights the intricacies and delicacies of intimate relationships between different generations. From Mr Nakano and his numerous failed marriages and affairs to his older sister who has chosen to remain unmarried in her fifties despite being in a stable relationship – The Nakano Thrift Shop is a tale of love through the ages.
Hiromi Kawakami was born in Tokyo in 1958. She has written numerous short-stories, novels and literary criticism. A contemporary of Banana Yoshimoto, Kawakami is known for her off-beat, often fantastical and surreal prose which describes details of intimate everyday social interactions. Her most well-known novel in translation is Strange Weather In Tokyo which was published in 2001.
I took some of this post from the review I wrote of ‘The Nakano Thrift Shop’ on my old blog, Yasmine Rose Reads Books, though some of it has been changed and modified slightly.