The Nakano Thrift Shop
By Hiromi Kawakami
The international reputation of Japanese novelist Hiromi Kawakami is on the rise if her recent work is anything to go by. Allison Markin Powell’s translation of Strange Weather in Tokyo made shortlists for the International Man Booker and Independent Foreign Fiction prizes. Whatever the award, Kawakami’s work earns plaudits such as “experimental” or “quirky”. While The Nakano Thrift Shop should win further praise, it will do little to stop phrases such as “eccentric genius” being rolled out. The very idea of a thrift store encourages Kawakami to indulge her own love of curiosity, in all senses of the word. This extends from the titular Mr Nakano, the trim shopkeeper who “made an odd impression”, to the curios he sells, with their own unusual pasts. Kawakami is equally interested in the peculiar paths taken by human beings. In this, the thrift shop is more than a portal; it provides a sanctuary, for Mr Nakano, fleeing a life of commerce and sexual abandon, his sensitive artist-sister and, recently, Hitomi, the novel’s de facto heroine. Shy and insecure, she finds her ideal job in working the till at the shop, and her ideal mate in Takeo, another dropout. Charm drips from every page, sometimes in eye-opening permutations with eroticism.