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Reviews for Breasts and Eggs

by Mieko Kawakami

Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.