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The Crack Magazine

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Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami

When I think of Japan I think of shiny new buildings, spectacular shops overflowing with the latest consumer durables and a standard of living that befits a country with the third largest economy in the world. A generalisation Japanese politicians are always eager to foster - why would they want anyone to think about poverty, patriarchal attitudes and the reality that Japan is pretty much like any other country living under the unfair yoke of capitalism? Inevitably Mieko Kawakami finds small crumbs of comfort for her characters, who struggle with self-doubt, the grind of staying financially afloat and the attitudes that keep women and girls firmly in their place. But that doesn’t mean they’re not ready to ask hard questions about a society that allows men a freedom and leeway not afforded to women. Why does being a woman automatically mean being assigned, by design or otherwise, to a role one has no interest in adopting? Or can the role be adapted? A question Breasts and Eggs main protagonist, Natsuko, has no fear in trying to answer as she negotiates her way through family travails, suffocating men, edgy friendships and all the doubts she has about being a writer, “I know that in reality, it makes no difference whether I write novels, and it makes no difference if anyone cares.” By the end Natsuko is firmly on a path, no spoilers, that may be difficult but is her own and one she is finally comfortable in taking. Breasts and Eggs is one of this year’s best novels and I eagerly await further translations of Mieko Kawakami’s work.

Translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd – publ. Picador – £9.99

Steven Long

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