Book Review : The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami
7th November, 2016
Nakano thrift shop is a quaint shop that sells second hand goods. The four people associated with the business get close to each other in a matter of days. But how entangled are the emotional attachments?
They say, “Never judge a book by its cover”. But to tell the truth what attracted me to Kawakami’s work are the covers of her books. The cover is the work of Japanese photographer Natsumi Hayashi who specialises in taking slightly spooky pictures of Japanese girls levitating and floating. You can find more of Natsumi’s work at Yowayowa Camera Woman Diary. When I finished the read, I was fully able to appreciate the ethereal nature of the covers. The book was everything I expected from the cover.
Hitomi Suganuma is a young woman who gets a job at a thrift store owned by Haruo Nakano. As she works at the store, she gets to know the other people associated with the business, and through her, so do we. I loved Hitomi as the narrator. She knows a bit more information than the reader. But she is also desperately searching for concrete answers, much like the reader.
The main cast of the novel are the four people connected to the thrift store. The owner, Haruo Nakano, is a womanizer and somehow his women seem to love him as well; his elder sister, Masayo, an artist who likes to be on the lookout for her brother. Then there’s the delivery driver, Takeo, a reserved man with secrets of his own, who later becomes more than just a colleague to Hitomi. Hitomi, the narrator, always remains in the background. We never get to know much about her and she mostly serves as the telescope through which we view the other characters.
Each chapter takes its title from an object which is sold in the shop. The book reads like an account about the various customers and employees of the shop, with the plot drifting off tangentially in some chapters. In simpler words, there isn’t much of a plot. We see fragments of life of the main characters and thread the story together, if at all there is a story. The tone of the book is calm, with occasional ripples that die out soon enough. And even by the end there is a sort of vagueness that remains in the minds of the reader about certain characters. Hitomi is a narrator with great clarity; the vagueness comes because she herself is searching for answers.
I have heard that this book reads a lot like Kawakami’s first novel, Strange weather in Tokyo (whose cover is also designed by Natsumi Hayashi). Her first novel was praised for its surreal and dream-like narration. And after reading The Nakano Thrift shop, I am sure I will enjoy that one as well.
Final Verdict :
Those who loved A Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogwa or writing on the lines of Murakami will enjoy this book. The read is atmospheric and the reader is transported to the thrift shop and is pulled into the lives of the main characters. If you are a person who enjoys melancholic reads with a cup of tea, and don’t mind feeling lonelier on reading the last page, this book is for you. Read it warning yourself that you might have to leave this comfortable space, where the characters dwell, without all the answers, content that you spent a significant amount of time with them, enough to make them memorable.
Title : The Nakano Thrift Shop
Author : Hiromi Kawakami Illustrator : Allison Markin Powell
Publisher : Portobello Books
Published : 2016 (Originally 2005)
Language : English
Pages : 256
Rating : 4/5
Much thanks to the publisher for a copy of the book. All opinions are my own.
Have you read any books by Hiromi Kawakami? Do you like her style of writing?
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Hiromi Kawakami is a Japanese writer known for her off beat fiction. She rose to fame with her first novel Strange weather in Tokyo. Previously she has written short stories and is also known as a povocative essayist.