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

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BREASTS AND EGGS

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. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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A trifle facile, but this decades-spanning drama is readable and engrossing throughout.

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A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA

Two refugees from the Spanish Civil War cross the Atlantic Ocean to Chile and a half-century of political and personal upheavals.

We meet Victor Dalmau and Roser Bruguera in 1938 as it is becoming increasingly clear that the Republican cause they support is doomed. When they reunite in France as penniless refugees, Roser has survived a harrowing flight across the Pyrenees while heavily pregnant and given birth to the son of Victor’s brother Guillem, killed at the Battle of the Ebro. Victor, evacuated with the wounded he was tending in a makeshift hospital, learns of a ship outfitted by poet Pablo Neruda to take exiles to a new life in Chile, but he and Roser must marry in order to gain a berth. Allende (In the Midst of Winter, 2017, etc.) expertly sets up this forced intimacy between two very different people: Resolute, realistic Roser never looks back and doggedly pursues a musical career in Chile while Victor, despite being fast-tracked into medical school by socialist politician Salvador Allende (a relative of the author's), remains melancholy and nostalgic for his homeland. Their platonic affection deepens into physical love and lasting commitment in an episodic narrative that reaches a catastrophic climax with the 1973 coup overthrowing Chile’s democratically elected government. For Victor and Roser, this is a painful reminder of their losses in Spain and the start of new suffering. The wealthy, conservative del Solar family provides a counterpoint to the idealistic Dalmaus; snobbish, right-wing patriarch Isidro and his hysterically religious wife, Laura, verge on caricature, but Allende paints more nuanced portraits of eldest son Felipe, who smooths the refugees’ early days in Chile, and daughter Ofelia, whose brief affair with Victor has lasting consequences. Allende tends to describe emotions and events rather than delve into them, and she paints the historical backdrop in very broad strokes, but she is an engaging storyteller. A touching close in 1994 brings one more surprise and unexpected hope for the future to 80-year-old Victor.

A trifle facile, but this decades-spanning drama is readable and engrossing throughout.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2015-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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