Literature | 2014 Brisbane Writers Festival | Drama | Romance | Translations

THE NAKANO THRIFT SHOP by Hiromi Kawakami, Book Review

The Nakano Thrift Shop is a beguiling story of love found amid odds and ends, an utterly charming novel from one of Japan’s most celebrated contemporary novelists.
Hiromi Kawakami The Nakano Thrift Shop review

The Nakano Thrift Shop Synopsis :

When Hitomi takes a job on the cash register of a neighbourhood thrift store, she finds herself drawn into a very idiosyncratic community. There is Mr Nakano, an enigmatic ladies’ man with several ex-wives; Masayo, Mr Nakano’s sister, an artist who has never married; and her fellow employee Takeo, a shy but charming young man. Every day, customers from the neighbourhood pass in and out as curios are bought and sold, each one containing its own surprising story. When Hitomi and Takeo begin to fall for one another, they find themselves in the centre of their own drama – and on the edges of many others.

A tender and affecting exploration of the mystery that lurks in the ordinary, this novel traces the seemingly imperceptible threads that weave together a community, and the knots that bind us to one another.

Translated from the original Japanese by Allison Markin Powell

(Portobello Books)

Disclosure: If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.

BOOK REVIEW

I was enthralled by Hiromi Kawakami’s quietly affecting little novel Strange Weather in Tokyo (aka The Briefcase) when I read it back in 2015, and so was delighted to find that another of her novels had recently been translated into English.

Once again, Kawakami’s focus is on the intrigue to be found in the commonplace – the value different people ascribe to the bric-a-brac being sold within the thrift shop analogous to the enigmatic personal relationships of those who frequent it. The messages at the core of The Nakano Thrift Shop, that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and to thine own self be true, are firmly grounded in the everyday.

What is it about the lens through which Kawakami, and thus her characters, observe and interpret their surroundings and the actions of others that I find so compelling? The viewpoint is a contradiction of sorts – one of isolation or detachment within a crowd, but at the same time an acute awareness of and curiosity for the smallest details.

… it was raining much harder. It’s a downpour, I murmured, and Takeo looked up at the sky.

‘Doubt there’s anything that can be done about it, I guess,’ I said in the direction of Takeo’s raised chin. Takeo still hadn’t said anything. Even petroleum is in limited supply, I thought, to say nothing of the terribly meagre resources of my love. How could it be expected to sustain this level of silent treatment?

We stood for a while under the eaves of the bank and watched the rain. It had developed into a storm.

I also admire how Kawakami avoids character and literary tropes. And because of this, the romantic elements within The Nakano Thrift Shop would probably be categorised as unconventional. But indeed, what is a conventional relationship, if not a chimera?

While perhaps not quite as haunting or profound as Strange Weather in Tokyo, I highly recommend the subtle charm, entertaining quirkiness and originality of The Nakano Thrift Shop.

Already on my wishlist are the English translations of three of Hiromi Kawakami’s award-winning short stories (titled Record of a Night Too Brief) being published by Pushkin Press at the end of January.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

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Genre: Literature, Romance, Drama, Translation

The Nakano Thrift Shop Cover 2   The Nakano Thrift Shop Cover 3

About the Author, Hiromi Kawakami

Born in 1958 in Tokyo, Hiromi Kawakami is one of Japan’s most popular contemporary novelists. She is the recipient of the Pascal Short Story Prize for New Writers and the Akutagawa Prize. Her novel Drowning won both the Ito Sei Literature Award and Joryu Bungaku Sho (Women Writers’ Prize) in 2000. Her novel Manazuru won the 2011 Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize. Strange Weather in Tokyo (Sensei no kaban) won the Tanizaki prize in 2001 and was shortlisted for both the 2013 Man Asian Literary Prize and the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

About the Translator, Allison Markin Powell

Allison Markin Powell is a literary translator, editor, and publishing consultant in New York City. She has worked in the editorial departments of American and Japanese book and magazine publishing, and has translated works by Osamu Dazai, Hiromi Kawakami, and Fuminori Nakamura, among others. Her translation of Kawakami’s The Briefcase was nominated for the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize, and the UK edition (Strange Weather in Tokyo) was nominated for the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Powell was the guest editor of Words Without Border’s first Japan issue in May 2009 and she maintains the database www.japaneseliteratureinenglish.com.

Other reviews of The Nakano Thrift Shop

Goodreads, Tony’s Reading List, Sydney Morning Herald, Kirkus Reviews, A Life in Books