Manazuru, by Hiromi Kawakami

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Four stars, read in January 2017.

There is sort of a dreamlike quality to this whole book, even the scenes you know are taking place in real life. It’s a little vague at times, but coalesces in the end into something like relief. Maybe contentment. Kawakami has a beautiful way with words, describing feelings I’ve had myself, but never explicitly thought about.

There are times, when we do a thing, when we think it in words, and there are times when we think it not in words but in pictures, and there are times when we think nothing.

It’s about a woman whose husband disappeared twelve years ago, and that is all the information we start out with. She lives with her mother and daughter—the latter now a teenager who was only three when her father disappeared.

Lately, she’s seemed sullen. She isn’t really in a bad mood; at her age, it takes energy to be cheerful. You think she is being sullen when she is simply being.

I feel like this is an excellent description of teenagers; it’s also something I’ve felt often as an adult. Cheerful isn’t a neutral state. It definitely requires energy.

It is unfathomable that I, too, once sat day in and day out in a classroom just like this. When I was in junior high, that classroom felt right. In elementary school, that classroom felt right. Maybe because I had nowhere else to go. Or maybe back then I didn’t feel this restless burgeoning, this seeping out.

I don’t think I would have said anything about it feeling right, but that’s because I never would have questioned its rightness in the first place—whereas now, I don’t know if there’s anywhere I feel I really belong. Is that just a privilege of childhood that we never notice until it’s gone? The lack of questioning? 

Only the things we are still holding on to can vanish into the past. If we no longer have it, it can’t be lost that way. Can’t vanish anywhere. Nonexistent, it is nonetheless unable, forever, to go.

Over time, I have come to feel forsaken. I didn’t used to feel this way. I was fine. On my own, with another person, with many people, I was fine, always. Not now. I can’t get used to it. My body can’t get used to it. Being alone, being three, as soon as I feel I have finally grown accustomed to the atmosphere of a given moment, someone steps away, or joins the group, and the air changes; it takes time for me to get used to the change.

Bodies are harder to distinguish than feelings. Gazing at a body, you lose track of whose body it is . . . It is less remarkable, the act of love, in reality, than when it is imagined. It is sticky, noisy, and however lewd the act may be, in the end, it all comes down to more or less the same thing. However extraordinary the position, however fiercely we hurl ourselves together, it comes to seem that we are only mimicking forms that we have seen before, somewhere. There is more complexity in our feelings.

I have actually thought about this before. Doesn’t it seem, sometimes, that no matter how titillating something tries to be, there’s a point where you see past the curtain? I think “sexiness” is a sort of aura, and it depends more on the atmosphere than on the actual activity.

I’ve had a couple of Kawakami’s books on my list for a while, and none of my libraries own them, so I’d been planning to request them through interlibrary loan at some point. Then one day I was shelf reading at the library where I work, and it turned out we actually own one of her books—a title I’d never heard of. So this book was a pleasant surprise from start to finish, and I’m looking forward to reading The Briefcase and Strange Weather in Tokyo when I find them.

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7 thoughts on “Manazuru, by Hiromi Kawakami

      1. Ha, yes I was confused for a minute. I’ve had both those other books on my list for a while, but haven’t been able to find them – and I’d actually never heard of Manazuru, but stumbled across it unexpectedly at my library. I’m still really looking forward to the other two.

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      2. I think Manazuru is her first novel. A translation of Nakano Thrift Shop was released last year, which I don’t have yet, and a short story collection is due out this year. I hope you find Strange Weather/The Briefcase. It’s an odd story, but a good one.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. This is a very complete study of the way Kawakami describes feelings, particularly at adolescence. For my own, I also appreciated the description of the links between the mother Kai and her child Momo. Who protects the other ? The answer is not the same at the beginning and at the end of the book.

    Liked by 1 person

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