Saturday 26 September 2020


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Breasts and Eggs by Meiko Kawakami    {Reviewed by STELLA}
Mieko Kawakami’s novel Breasts and Eggs is a book of two parts. The first, originally written in 2008 as a novella, describes the encounter between two sisters during a hot weekend in Tokyo. Makiko, the older sister, is visiting from Osaka with her 12-year-old daughter Midoriko. Makiko, an ageing hostess, has come to the city to get a boob job, something that neither her sister nor daughter can quite see the point of. Midoriko, on the cusp of womanhood, finds her body abject and keeps a journal outlining her thoughts and reactions to her changing body and those around her. She’s also so angry with her mother that she’s not speaking to her, nor to anyone else. Her interactions are physical shrugs, hand gestures and written notes which declare her wishes and objections in clear terms. Makiko is obsessed with taking control of her body and her situation — life is a struggle with no clear way of stepping out of poverty. Natsuko is a young woman working and living as cheaply as possible as she tries to establish herself as a writer. She’s not making much headway, but she has escaped the binds that would make it impossible for her to even contemplate such a dream if she had remained in Osaka. With the advantage of being first written as a novella, this part of Breasts and Eggs is sharp and fast-paced, with insight into the sisters’ family life, their lives as single women, and both hilarious and edgy conversations and observations. Midoriko’s witty, sometimes angry, contemplative journal entries create a contrast to the sisters’ dialogue as they attempt to understand each other and their relative circumstances. Each is dealing with their bodily discomforts, as well as their gender roles in a society that has certain expectations. In the second part of the novel, we meet Natsuko ten years later. She’s now a successful author, struggling in the depths of her current second novel. She is single and finds the idea of sex abhorrent and has no desire to be in a relationship, yet she desires a child or the idea of her child: she does not want to have a child, but to meet her child, and her days and nights are filled with this preoccupation. Here, we delve further into the psyche of Natsuko and her investigation of a woman’s access to fertility treatments, including artificial insemination, an investigation that leads her to meet two adult children of assisted conception, who crave knowledge of their sperm donors, interactions that allow Natsuko a window on an unknown future. While Kawakami pulls us in close to Natsuko’s research, conversations and dreams, as well as her bodily preoccupations, she is also drawing our attention to the socio-political currents that determine who has control over women's reproductive rights, and cultural norms which undermine choice in the Japanese society that Natsuko and her contemporaries live in. Breasts and Eggs is a novel about freedom and a feminist exploration of Japanese society, as much as it is about conception, preoccupation with bodily functions, and the body as a vehicle for reproduction. A bestseller and divider in Japan, both lauded and condemned by her fellow male Japanese authors, it is subtle, quirkily witty, and strangely dark at times. Kawakami deftly layers the deeper concerns of class, autonomy and gender within the character of Natsuko, who is a strangely innocent, yet perceptive, protagonist.

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