The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami
Like a bubble, Nakano’s thrift shop conserves the static lives of Hitomi and Takeo. As young adults, they still cannot quite grasp concepts of love, sexuality and identity. They approach each other, swerve, elude each other and collide again. The middle-aged shopkeeper, his sister, their lovers, all appear to be more experienced. Yet, they struggle with similar issues. Despite being separated by age, they learn from each other’s perception and indirectly push each other’s personal growth. The protagonist Hitomi, who narrates in first person, often fails to understand and to express her emotions clearly. Nevertheless, she is an observer with an eye for small details, which are left for the reader to interpret.
It is a peaceful novel, capturing everyday life rather than great adventures. Hiromi Kawakami depicts gradual personal development without forcing dramatic, lifechanging experiences onto her characters. The focus lies on interpersonal bonds and the impact one utterance can have. As such, I recommend it to be read in quiet moments or when life requires one to step back and take a breath. It leaves one more calm for sure.
Hitomi is very observant yet oddly purposefully ignorant. In her mid-twenties, she struggles to recognise and identify love, attraction and lust. I guess we all sometimes do.
Nakano-san struggles actually with the same thing, but on a different level. While Hitomi is already completely overwhelmed with her attraction to one man, Nakano-san juggles with different women.
Masayo, his sister, is probably my favourite character. She is outspoken and cannot be intimidated. Even though she recognises the difficulties Hitomi has, she respects her and does not push her too far.
Takeo, Sakiko and various customers are more sketched than fully outlined, nevertheless, they do not seem incomplete.
Some would call it slow, I call it going for a stroll rather than a race. Over the timespan of a few years, only certain events are pulled out and described, leaving lots of jumps in time in between.
Original title: 古道具中野商店 (Furudōgu nakano shōten)
German translation: Herr Nakano und die Frauen
Date of publication: 2005
Where: Stockholm, preferably near water
When: Spring 2018
Mood: Reflecting on life