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BREASTS AND EGGS

It’s hard to know who the audience for this translation is supposed to be.

Newly translated fiction by one of Japan’s most celebrated contemporary authors.

Kawakami is almost certainly new to most Anglophone readers. Her novella Ms. Ice Sandwich—published in Japan in 2013 and released in English in 2017—earned some critical acclaim, and Haruki Murakami’s praise for her work has generated interest in this writer as well. Murakami is not alone in mentioning Kawakami's voice—her choice to incorporate Osaka's distinctive dialect is an unusual one—and critics have lauded the author for tackling subjects that are seldom explored in Japanese literature. But Kawakami's idiosyncratic use of language is lost on Anglophone readers, and her frank talk about class and sexism and reproductive choice is noteworthy primarily within the context of Japanese literary culture. An audience outside of Japan probably doesn’t know Kawakami from her career as a pop singer, nor will they have experienced her writing as a blogger—this novel began as blog posts written more than a decade ago. So, what will readers encounter in this newly published translation? A novel about women figuring out how they want to be women. The central figure here is Natsu, the narrator. She begins her story as her sister, Makiko, and her 12-year-old niece, Midoriko, are arriving in Tokyo from Osaka. Tokyo is the city where Natsu came as a young woman to build a new life as a writer. Osaka is the place she left, and it’s where her sister still works as a hostess—a woman whose job is keeping men company while they buy alcohol, food, and karaoke. Makiko’s goal during her brief stay in Tokyo is to choose a clinic for breast enhancement; this surgery has become her obsession. Her daughter, Midoriko, has stopped speaking to her mother—she communicates by writing notes—but Midoriko’s journal entries reveal a girl who is afraid of becoming a woman. In the second half of the novel, Natsu contemplates becoming a mother while dealing with the options open to a single woman in Japan and also listening to her colleagues talk about their experiences as mothers and wives. Kawakami’s style is sometimes funny, occasionally absurd, and mostly flat—at least in translation and in novel form.

It’s hard to know who the audience for this translation is supposed to be.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-60945-587-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: Jan. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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NORMAL PEOPLE

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Awards & Accolades

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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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