The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami

 

the-nakano-thrift-shop_hiromi-kawakami

The Nakano Thrift Shop is an amusing look at the people who work at a secondhand goods store in Tokyo.  Hitomi, a part-time employee and the book’s narrator is smitten with aloof co-worker Takeo, whose abrupt manner she finds both confusing and infuriating.  The shop’s proprietor, Mr. Haruo Nakano is a thrice-married ladies’ man with a mistress Hitomi and Takeo humorously dub ‘the Bank’, in reference to Mr. Nakano going off in the afternoon to secretly meet her (‘I’m just off to the Bank!’).  Making regular appearances at the shop is Mr. Nakano’s enigmatic older sister Masayo, a free-spirited artist whose rekindled romance with a newly divorced man manages to irk her brother’s questionable sensibilities.  Told from Hitomi’s perspective, the various relationships of the people who make up the Nakano Thrift Shop are anything but simple and ordinary.

Just as with Kawakami’s other work, Strange Weather in Tokyo, The Nakano Thrift Shop is written in a series of individual stories, with each chapter themed around an object.  In ‘Letter Opener’, we are introduced to ‘the Bank’ Sakiko, Mr. Nakano’s enigmatic mistress whom Hitomi and Takeo meet at the hospital where their employer is laid up after a nasty encounter with an unstable customer.  We get to know more about Maruyama, Masayo’s lover, in ‘Big Dog’.  In ‘Rectangular #2’, Hitomi deals with an amateur photographer with some rather ‘interesting’ photos to sell to the shop.  And in ‘Sewing Machine’ and ‘Dress’, Hitomi and Takeo’s awkward relationship is explored.

Just as with Kawakami’s other work, Strange Weather in Tokyo, The Nakano Thrift Shop is written in a series of individual stories, with each chapter themed around an object. In ‘Letter Opener’, we are introduced to ‘the Bank’ Sakiko, Mr. Nakano’s enigmatic mistress whom Hitomi and Takeo meet at the hospital where their employer is laid up after a nasty encounter with an unstable customer. We get to know more about Maruyama, Masayo’s lover, in ‘Big Dog’. In ‘Rectangular #2’, Hitomi deals with an amateur photographer with some rather ‘interesting’ photos to sell to the shop. And in ‘Sewing Machine’ and ‘Dress’, Hitomi and Takeo’s awkward on-and-off romance is explored. While the book lacks a defining plot, the stories and the relationships between the four characters connect the book as a whole. The conversations in the shop, often initiated by Mr. Nakano or Masayo (‘Just as Mr. Nakano spouted like water from a hose, once Masayo started talking, her torrent of words gushed at full blast.’) remind me of the kind of talk I would have with fellow sales associates during slow days on the sales floor, the kind of idle talk that, whether we knew it or not, connected us in the moment.  While Mr. Nakano and Masayo both have their respective romantic partners, most of their time is spent at the shop, interacting with Hitomi, Takeo, and the customers, and these relationships feel slightly more substantial.

I might be one of the few readers who admit to enjoying this book over Strange Weather in Tokyo, so much so that I’m thinking about purchasing my own copy.  It’s leisurely-paced, tender, and a little offbeat.  It also gave me mad cravings for katsudon and cold beer.  Well played, Kawakami.  Well played.

Find rare and collectible first editions at AbeBooks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *