Breasts and Eggs: A Novel

by Mieko Kawakami

Other authorsDavid Boyd (Translator), Sam Bett (Translator)
Hardcover, 2020

Status

Available

Publication

Europa Editions (2020), 448 pages

Description

"Breasts and Eggs paints a portrait of contemporary womanhood in Japan and recounts the intimate journeys of three women as they confront oppressive mores and their own uncertainties on the road to finding peace and futures they can truly call their own. It tells the story of three women: the thirty-year-old Natsu, her older sister, Makiko, and Makiko's daughter, Midoriko. Makiko has traveled to Tokyo in search of an affordable breast enhancement procedure. She is accompanied by Midoriko, who has recently grown silent, finding herself unable to voice the vague yet overwhelming pressures associated with growing up. Her silence proves a catalyst for each woman to confront her fears and frustrations. On another hot summer's day ten years later, Natsu, on a journey back to her native city, struggles with her own indeterminate identity as she confronts anxieties about growing old alone and childless"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member modioperandi
Thanks to NetGalley for my ARC.

This English translation of the expanded novella Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami is a revelation. I'd never heard of her and like so many others was hooked by the glowing blurb by Haruki Murakami. Miekos writing is straightforward and clear and through this clean
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crisp clarty the ideas flow. The stories center around women in Japan and women's bodies in Japan. It's a thoroughly moving and weird novel. It's in the tradition of Murakami greatness but it's refreshingly not Murakami.

It's moving and weird and insightful. I'm looking forward to more from Kawakami.
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LibraryThing member Ken-Me-Old-Mate
Here I am again, inside another Japanese novel that appears to lack any kind of recognisable structure, where was the beginning? how will I know when I get to the middle, etc. Characters appear and some might have significance or they may just stop appearing in the next 20 pages. And yet.

And yet,
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there is a pull going on here, you can feel a story unfolding, but in a really reluctant manner. The main character, for by now she is definitely in the frame for that role, has unfolded herself across all the furniture of the story. And so it goes on.

I’m reading on the kindle and it’s telling me that I am 56% of the way through and I cannot imagine what there can possibly be to fill another 44% unless there is a huge index and if there was it would consist of just one word, DOUBT and then it would have every page number listed under that one word.

A long time back I gave up looking for deeper meanings in books, I figure that if someone has something deep to say they can just say it, I see no reason why I should have to wade through endless, pointless, references, and allusions to try and piece some shit together.

Is there something here that I am missing? I don’t think so, it’s a story about a woman who appears to be having some kind of crisis but one that lacks drama and passion, unless you call turning the AC up as drama.

As banal as that sounds it really is the mark of about 90% of this novel. The other 10% is something else like you only get in Japanese novels. They really are another country and they certainly do things differently there.

I don’t think you can decide if Japanese novels are good or not because they appear to come from another planet and are built to different rules using concepts that we do not appear to possess or even approximate in western culture.

So where does that leave us?

I always feel like I am up shit creek without a kimono but it’s never an unpleasant experience. If you try to compare the experience to anything you have known from western culture, well, then you start to feel pain.

I guess the closest I ever get is to think of Japanese novels as like sitting by a lake and western novels as like sitting next to a highway. They not only go at different speeds but they are of fundamentally different orders of existence. By the highway you are just as likely to see a bus whizzing pass with Tom Cruise hanging on to the roof by his fingernails yet by the lake it could only be the graceful crane gliding by.

I also think of those Japanese prints of the octopus on the woman’s sex giving her pleasure. From our culture that could only come from some debased and disgustingly craven place, but when the Japanese do it you look at it and think, “that would make nice wallpaper”.

So the answer to the question, “is this a good book?”, can only be “fish”.
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LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
This is an existential Japanese novel. The one full-on existential scene involving two women is just overwhelmingly depressing. There's also some existentialist musing by an alienated teenaged girl which doesn't drown your spirit to the same degree because, well because she's an alienated teenaged
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girl. The novel follows two sisters throughout their childhoods and part of their adult life. One is a hostess in a bar, she is the mother of the teenager, the other is a novelist. The breast part refers to the hostess sister's obsession with getting breast implants. The eggs part refers to the novelist sister's questioning whether or not she wants to have a child. I gave the book 4 stars because it has some very interesting ideas and a good look at Japanese culture, but while it is only 448 pages, it does seem to be interminable.
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
I really had high hopes for this book. It has one of the best beginning for any book I’ve read. Natsu, the 35-year old single narrator compares poverty to windows. The poorer you are the smaller and fewer windows in your residence. She has always been poor. She and her sister grew up living with
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their mom and grandmother in a tiny apartment. Both parents died when the girls were in their teens. Sounds interesting right? How do older single women exist in a Japanese society where they are overlooked? Well, the story soon turned into Natsu remembering her childhood, her sister, who also is very poor, going on and on about breast augmentation, and her sister’s daughter on the cusp of puberty refusing to talk to either and spending most of her time writing about menstruation and eggs she has in her body. I soon lost interest. Or maybe that was the point? Unmarried women in Japan are uninteresting.
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LibraryThing member arosoff
This was apparently originally a novella which was later expanded into a novel, and I think the first book is the original portion--it does read as something of a self contained novella. It's about the visit of Natsuko's sister Makiko and her daughter Midoriko, ostensibly for Makiko's visit with a
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plastic surgeon for breast implants. The second part picks up Natsuko's story nearly a decade later--now a full time writer, she struggles with decisions about relationships and childbearing.

Essentially, it's a story primarily of women and their relationships to each other. There is one male character, but his role--though important--is not at the core of the story. Natsuko and Makiko grew up poor, raised by their mother and grandmother; Makiko is also a single mother, struggling to raise her daughter as a bar hostess. When she considers getting pregnant, Natsuko faces formal and informal discrimination against single mothers by choice. Natsuko has to define her womanhood--both physically and in her relationships to others--and Kawakami does a wonderful job of describing this, while also criticizing Japanese views of gender, class, and motherhood.
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LibraryThing member kakadoo202
Felt a bit more like short stories about the same woman. Some loose ends and odd story line.
LibraryThing member missizicks
A poetic and raw depiction of contemporary life for working class women in Japan, the hardships they endure, the friendships that sustain them and the resolve that they show.

Part one introduces the narrator, her sister and her niece, exploring their family history and how they have come to be where
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they are now.

In part two, the narrator decides she wants a baby and, for reasons I won't divulge here, explores donor insemination and discovers the drawbacks for children of anonymous donors. I found this fascinating.

Surrounding this are the friendships she makes and the people she encounters as she tries to unpick her feelings about womanhood and isolation.

Kawakami's writing is beautiful, too. She draws in the seasons and landscape to give a sense of time and place and to help convey how her narrator is feeling.

I loved it.
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LibraryThing member steve02476
Very strange, very intense, complicated. Hit a little close to home in some ways, very unknown in other ways.
LibraryThing member BibliophageOnCoffee
I really enjoyed Book 1, but the wheels started falling off pretty quickly during Book 2. It actually felt like the two parts were barely related, possibly because this was originally a novella that later morphed into this much longer novel. Probably should have just stayed a novella, but it
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touched on a lot of important topics in relation to motherhood and societal expectations, so it was worth reading overall.
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LibraryThing member Eavans
Breasts and Eggs is really two novels in one.

Part one follows our main character as she hosts her sister, who wants a boob job she can't afford, and her niece. who is going through puberty and the angst surrounding it all. It's the highlight of the novel, and as a standalone novella, is one of the
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most visceral explorations of the female body and women's beauty expectations I've ever read. It's a heartbreaking and all-too-common story of single-parenthood, unease in growing into a body you don't want, and frankly, poverty.

Part two is much longer: it follows the same main character, this time debating if she should go through a sperm donation to have a child by herself, while navigating her writing career and feelings for others as someone unable and unwilling to have sexual intercourse. It covers about 2/3 of the novel and like the former, is written as a string of dialogues about parenthood had with the main character. It's a really interesting and invigorating construction; a bit film like, a bit dreamlike.

As I noted though, the book felt more like two novels: part one and two are definitely linked by character and theme, but the time shift, the length, and the focus were almost too different to fit together with ease. The second part also... dragged. I felt its length at times, and not in a good way. I wish the class themes would have continued in the second part as well, but oh well. The ending was similarly quite ambivalent to me: I thought the buildup of this novel would lead to acceptance and joy of childlessness, or at least something akin to it, but... I don't know. I can tell how important a work like this would be to women in contemporary Japan, and I'm glad it exists.

In all, the prose was captivating and the translation awesome, and I'd love to read more of her work. But. The plot got kind of lost halfway and I can't say it's perfect.
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Language

Original language

Japanese

Barcode

9087
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