“The best way I can put it is that I want to know them, this child, whoever they are” (299). Get to know this narrator, Natsuko, and her family inside and out in Breasts and Eggs, Mieko Kawakami’s first novel to be published in English.
Natsuko’s sister, Makiko, and daughter Midoriko, visit Natsu in Tokyo summer 2007. Makiko is looking for a cheap and reputable place for breast enhancement surgery and Midoriko, 13, is so mad, she refuses to speak. Ten years later, Natsu contemplates having a child herself. She weighs opinions and advice, then makes her own decision.
A simple plot, the drama is in Natsuko’s development as a whole, round person. Although sharply focused on her writing career, and leggy, her edges are soft. She listens acutely to her sister’s and friends’ tales of woe and is easily affected by physical sensations. Drinking, amusement park rides, and sex make her dizzy and troubled. Tokyo’s heat gets to her. At times, she loses touch with reality. Dreams about grapes exploding, balloons popping and events from the past mingle with her waking experience. Despite her airy-ness, Natsuko remains grounded in her desire to know. She is impossible to pigeonhole. The end of the book comes full circle, returning to the warm affection between a family of women.
A mostly inward-oriented story is punctuated by moments of outward-directed anger. Midoriko breaks cartons of eggs in a fight with her mother. Natsuko finds herself yelling at a symposium on artificial insemination, mad at fellow attendees and her own situation. Natsu’s author-colleagues lash out at each other. Midoriko’s raw, pubescent journal entries best capture the novel’s idiosyncratic delivery.
The story is candid about the pain of being a woman. Marriage, balancing work and parenting, and relationships are constant sources of tension the women characters discuss. Their language is punchy – less lyrical and more percussive. Bars, restaurants, and homes mimic the tension in their cramped, cluttered interiors, surrounded by a bustling urban center.
Natsuko’s only published novel features characters who all die yet somehow keep living. Timeless and thoroughly contemporary, intimate and expansive, Natsuko and her companions encompass extremes in a singular and unforgettable fashion.