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The Briefcase, by Hiromi Kawakami.

June 13, 2016
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The Briefcase, by Hiromi Kawakami.  Counterpoint (2012),   Allison Markin Powell, Translator.  (First published in Japan in 2001 as Strange Weather in Tokyo.)

5 stars —  FAVORITE

A wonderful, poignant novel by a Japanese woman about two insular people stumbling into an unorthodox closeness.

Hiromi Kawakami is a Japanese novelist and poet who was born in 1958.  She has been publishing in Japanese since 1980. Her writing has been popular and received several literary awards.  In Japan, The Briefcase was first published as Strange Weather in Tokyo.  It  has also appeared as a TV serial.

Tsukiko, the narrator of The Briefcase, is a woman in her thirties with no meaningful connections to any other people.  One night she meets a man in a traditional Japanese bar.  He is 30 years older than she is and her former teacher whom she has not seen since school days.  Tsukiko always calls him Sensei or teacher.  Gradually the two start regular, but never planned, meetings at the bar.  Then they began a variety of excursions in and around Tokyo.   Both continue to hold back emotions or affection, sometimes creating awkward situations.  Tsukiko recognizes just how far apart the two of them are:

I was keenly aware of the distance between us. Not only the difference of age between our ages in years, not even the expanse between where each of us stood at the moment, but rather the sheer distance that existed between us.

Finally they admit how much they care for each other.  Even then, their relationship contains the distance so often missing in our culture of instant intimacy.

Kawakam’s writing is deceptively simple and full of grace and charm. Capable of being both spar and detailed, she shows us the passage of time as the local landscape changes and different seasonal foods appear at the table.  At times she leaves readers needing to put together the meaning of what she describes.  Most of all she is capable of depicting the pain of loneliness and the difficulty of moving beyond it.  Her writing is as reserved as her main characters; it is full of Japanese culture and practices.  Throughout the book she expresses a mood of shy hopefulness.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Briefcase and am looking for translations of her other books. I enthusiastically recommend this book to a wide variety of other readers.  While the book is about the bonds between a man and a woman, the book is unlike anything I know in the romance genre.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 13, 2016 9:31 pm

    I read this a while ago and found it intriguing. That reticence is so unusual in fiction.

  2. July 3, 2016 6:57 pm

    I may have gotten the citation from yoou when I first began blogging.

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