Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami (tr. Allison Markin Powell)

strange weather in tokyo cover with girl in red dress on cover

a nutshell: this atmospheric novella follows Tsukiko’s blossoming connection with a former teacher after an encounter in a local bar

a line: “the harder I tried to see, the less sure I was about anything”

an image: at one point Tsukiko sits on a tree stump while mushroom-hunting and grows aware of how alive the undergrowth is – bugs, birds, even the breath of the larger animals inhabiting the deeper forest

a thought: I loved Kawakami’s mastery in depicting emotional turbulence, for instance while grieving the prospect of romantic love Tsukiko bursts into tears when she breaks an apple skin while trying to peel it the way her mother did

a fact: this book’s title in the US is ‘The Briefcase’, more accurately reflecting the Japanese title which apparently translates more or less to ‘Sensei of the Briefcase’ (Sensei is a Japanese term used to address a teacher, which is what Tsukiko calls her companion)

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Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto (tr. Megan Backus)

a nutshell: a lonely girl anchors herself to kitchens while navigating a way through traumas, with an incredible frankness of feeling, towards hints of happier times

a line: “if a person hasn’t ever experienced true despair, she grows old never knowing how to evaluate where she is in life; never understanding what joy really is”

an image: the girl and a boy with whom she’s staying both wake at night to find each other in the kitchen, having dreamed the very same mundane sequence of events – it’s described as a miracle and natural at once

a thought: the characters have a wonderful disregard for precision over interrelations – dynamics are unconventional and more real for it

a fact: published in 1988, one of the themes explored in the novel is transgenderism – yet it was only in 2003 that it became legal in Japan for transgender people who’ve gone through sex reassignment surgery to change their legal gender; sterilisation is still required, among many other challenging criteria

 

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