The Nakano Thrift Shop by Kawakami Hiromi

 

The Nakano Thrift Shop
by Kawakami Hiromi
translated by Allison Markin Powell
Portobello Books Ltd (2016)
ISBN-13: 978-1846276002

Review by Poppy Cosyns

The English translation of Akutagawa Prize-winning author Kawakami’s Strange Weather in Tokyo was a surprise hit in 2012, her whimsical, tangent-filled style and mouth-watering descriptions of izakaya fare providing a light-hearted form of escapism. The Nakano Thrift Shop – a similarly offbeat romance – tells the story of newly appointed shop assistant Hitomi, as she gets to know her eccentric group of customers and co-workers.

The setting of the thrift shop is a treasure trove of sub-plots for Kawakami and the histories of the pre-loved objects that populate its shelves are cleverly entwined with the central narrative.  Indeed, the significance of possessions and the transient nature of our sentimental attachment to them are themes that run throughout the story.  As with Strange Weather, Kawakami has chosen an episodic structure that could almost be read as a series of inter-connected short stories.

Hitomi’s relationship with her painfully awkward colleague Takeo stumbles forward, frustratingly defined by repression and misunderstanding.  While they remain loosely sketched characters, their boss Mr. Nakano is better rounded and his checkered past lends the meandering story some necessary fizzle.  Kawakami isn’t a writer who deals in extremes and this novel brings to light the subtle joys and poignancies that can be found in our everyday interactions.

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