Once upon a time when going out shopping was not a dreaded affair, I too went to a shopping mall. I wanted to gaze at the clothes, listlessly walk around the store with no intention of purchasing anything. Until I saw a beautiful turquoise blouse.
I knew at that very moment that I am going to love it. The material, shine, fit everything was perfect. Immediately I bought it and started wearing it. I enjoyed every bit of that blouse on me. I liked how it looked on me.
But my happiness was short-lived. Just after three washes, the blouse lost the colour first. The very same shine which attracted me in the first place started becoming gaudy – a bit on the heavier side. After experiencing a week of sheer happiness, my excitement plummeted down exponentially. So much so that I wrapped it up and placed it beneath the crypts of my cupboard not wanting to lose face.
I realised at that very moment that this purchase was not worth it, one I could have avoided. One I could have done without. This is precisely what I went through while reading Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami translated from Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd.
This book is divided into two parts. I think Kawakami intended to have a connection between both the books but unfortunately she failed to do so. ‘Book One’ takes place within a span of three days in Tokyo and ‘Book Two’ is a bit more elaborative . The resultant book becomes an overtly lengthy and disjointed novel which somewhat felt hay-wired from its original purpose.
It is a story about Natsuko, a lonely, broke, and struggling writer dealing with existential crises. Her sister Makiko who is unable to come to terms with her ageing body. Makiko’s daughter Midoriko is reaching puberty so she is scared as well as inquisitive about her changing body.
Makiko is obsessed about perceived beauty
Makiko is obsessed with a notion of having a perfect body, she wants to go for breast augmentation because she no longer feels beautiful after her pregnancy. Her conflict throughout the first book is her obsession and longing for exterior beauty and something which she thinks is pleasing to the eye. She had a recurring disagreement with her daughter and doesn’t get along with her.
Midoriko finds her puberty a mystery
Midoriko is an avid reader engrossed in books all the time. Kawakami has introduced her character through a journal that she maintains. It is through her journal we come to know her anxiety about her developing body. She is curious about periods. Mostly she doesn’t pay heed to either her mother or Natsuko’s conversations but she becomes quite attentive when Natsuko tells her all about sanitary napkins.
Not only puberty is worrisome for her, but she is also disturbed about her relationship with her mother. To the extent that she has stopped talking to her. Yes, she writes her responses on a paper whenever an answer is desired of her. Other than that, hardly has she spoken anything. Will she ever speak to her mother? And, what has made her so upset?
Natsuko is chaotic, trying to figure out life
Natsuko is our narrator. She aspired to become a writer at some point in her life but now she has given up. She feels she doesn’t have the knack for writing a novel or writing anything. She is lonely, no boyfriend and she doesn’t even want to get married. Why? She doesn’t understand intimacy. She has no desire to have sex. She doesn’t enjoy masculine companion but she wants to be a mother.
‘Book Two’ leaps forward in the future and Natsuko is a successful writer now. What more does she want from life? A child. A child of her own. She researches on the internet on methods to conceive. Sperm donation is the only viable option as she is unmarried. But, Natsuko is indecisive about having a child or not. The added responsibility frightens her at the same time being a mother comforts her.
The only admirable quality of the book is the writing
The introduction of this book is one of the most captivating and catchy introductions I have read so far. The first paragraph sets the tone of the book. I felt the chills through my spine fused with excitement of what lies ahead of me. But sadly the book never picked up. It is a strange, oblique, sentimental, and monotonous story. Actually there is no story.
The entire narrative is an emotional extract from Natsuko’s memories and her incessant battles about her ambition and later on motherhood. The writing is commendable and capable of building the reader’s interest but without a solid plot it seems to wither away quickly. Sadly the words stop clicking ultimately. The book becomes a bunch of sentences devoid of sentiments and loses touch eventually. Not worth it
With a heavy heart, I want to say that I don’t recommend this book. ‘Book One’ still kept me invested but ‘Book Two’ was a huge disappointment. I felt like abandoning the book in the middle but I didn’t. Having read till the end I really felt I should have. A book I could have done without.
Do you read translated Japanese fiction? Have you heard of this book? Do you post reviews of the book you don’t like?
If you consider getting a copy after reading this post, please buy it from Amazon