Thursday, March 5, 2020

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami

I was really excited to receive an ARC of this because of the blurb by Haruki Murakami. Don't be fooled by the racy title-- this is a very serious, very dark look at gender norms and expectations for women, tackling topics such as fertility, body image, and gender conformity. Our narrator is a woman in her thirties named Natsuko and the story revolves around her, her sister, Makiko, and her niece, a teenager named Midoriko.

Style-wise, this reminds me a bit of Banana Yoshimoto's work in that there's a dreamy element to the narrative, even as Kawakami is writing about some very unpleasant things. Natsuko is feeling the ticking of her biological clock, but isn't sure if she wants children. Makiko, who has a child, is a single mother working as a hostess in an industry that seeks ever younger girls. She's feeling self-conscious about her post-pregnancy body growing older and wants to get cosmetic surgery to look young. Midoriko thinks all of this is disgusting. She finds aging terrifying, and the inevitability of it combined with her own powerlessness has essentially led to her taking a vow of silence with her mother.

The first half of this book is much better than the second half. I really enjoyed the unconventional family dynamic and all of the issues that were being presented-- something that's incredibly relevant in Japan, with women demanding more autonomy in a society that has historically repressed them. One thing that may trigger readers is the way a character who might or might not be transgender is addressed. This is a translated work and I'm not really familiar with the way that people who are transgender in Japan identify themselves, so it's possible that this is a language barrier thing, but the way it is written, people of Western audiences may see it as intentional misgendering.

The second half of the book is a bit more tedious. It takes place... I want to say 5-10 years in the future. Midoriko is no longer in middle school; now she's a young woman in college. Makiko is in her late forties and Natsuko is younger (early forties, I think) and now a successful author who has decided that yes, she does want children after all, and is looking into artificial insemination.

This is a very interesting book and I do appreciate the issues it brings to the table, but it felt like a much longer book than it actually needed to be.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review! 

2.5 out of 5 stars

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