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Book Review : The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami

7th November, 2016

The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami

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 Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami

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.

The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami

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.

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The Nakano Thrift Shop

About the Author

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.

This Post Has 22 Comments
  1. So glad you enjoyed this. I’m sure your know how much I’ve been dying to grab this. And I only want it more now. Books with atmospheric tones and no plot somehow are perfect breaks to read between thrilling stories.

  2. One of my favourite reads of this year! As you say, not much happens but that’s part of its charm. The four characters felt like family by the end of the book. I like your ‘final verdict’ and I’m sure you’d enjoy Strange Weather in Tokyo, another quiet little gem although more melancholic.

  3. Sounds enticing. I do look the cover photo. The young woman caught in mid-air, on a metro platform. Gives a sense of lightness.
    I’ve been away of blogging for a while, so I don’t know if you have too. Hope all is well with you. 🙂

    1. Well, coincidence as it may be. I was on a hiatus too. So I am writing again on the blog before things get too rusty (and the year ends). I liked the cover photo too. Levitating people in photographs are not the usual thing.

  4. Oh my goodness, I love the spooky pictures of the floating women! Hah, and the book cover is excellent as well.
    I love your reading taste, Resh. It’s so varied and eclectic. Your next review could be a wildly different kind of story than this quiet, melancholy one by Hiromi Kawakami. Thanks for always keeping me on my toes and exposing me to new voices!

    1. Thank you Naz. I used to think why I like books that are so different from one another. But now I am glad I do. Kawakami is a prominent Japanese writer and only three of her novels have been translated to English. I loved reading about the cover artist too. A very innovative cover indeed

  5. That cover is wild! I can see why it caught your eye. This sounds like a really great read too. I love books that explore relationships, so I don’t think I’d mind that not much action happens. Sometimes books like that are the best 🙂

  6. What a fantastic review. I completely understand getting drawn in by a cover and this one is a stunning one. I read Strange Weather in Tokyo and was drawn in by the cover but the book itself was interesting. It was like nothing I’d read before or since but I did enjoy it and the experience of it. I think this may be a book that is similar (obviously, it’s by the same author) where you are struck by the story and the characters and the beautiful writing and just the book. I think books like this one need the pretty cover to draw you in as the summaries don’t do it justice, but the covers also show there is a quirkiness to the story within.

    1. I agree. A good cover is always an added advantage. It really draws you to the book. Thank you for recommending A strange weather in Tokyo. I heard the writing style is very similar to this book. So I am eager to read that one as well.

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