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The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami

The Nakano Thrift Shop (2005)

by Hiromi Kawakami

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Showing 5 of 5
hmm... so, while this story had its moments, overall it all felt very flat to me, the story and the characters. i did quite like masayo - sister of the thrift shop owner, mr. nakano. masayo was layered, and interesting; the story was more lively when she was in any scene. ( )
  Booktrovert | Oct 15, 2017 |
Hitomi and Takeo work in Mr Nakano’s thrift shop, sometimes aided by Mr Nakano’s artistic sister, Masayo. It is a typical small enterprise with a host of colourful customers each with their own involved lives. And the lives of our principals are involved as well, Mr Nakano with his afternoon visits to his “bank” and Masayo with the taciturn Mr Maruyama. Hitomi and Takeo seem like they want to be involved with each other but their reticence is almost painful and inevitably awkward moments ensue.

With glancing light observations and Hitomi’s debilitating self-critique, we follow the ups and down of the thrift shop and its staff over the course of a year with a final chapter catching up on their development over the intervening few years subsequent to the shop’s closure. Events shift seamlessly, though sometimes disconcertingly, from the minute to the momentous, or the anodyne to the explicitly adult. But we always return eventually to Hitomi’s slow development (she is turning thirty but you’ll think she is still a teenager emotionally).

A gentle and surprisingly captivating read. Gently recommended. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Aug 14, 2017 |
Opening the pages of Hiromi Kawakami's THE NAKANO THRIFT SHOP is like taking a cup of hot tea on a cold, damp day. It's comforting, uplifting, and fortifying with just enough sweetness. The book covers a few years in the life of a Japanese trinket shop, the items that come in and out of it, and the quirky and lovable people who come into contact with it. It is the intermingling of the characters, trinkets, and plots that makes this book an absolute delight to read.

Twenty-five years ago, Haruo Nakano quit his corporate job at a food company and decided to open a thrift shop in a Tokyo suburb. He's an eccentric man, having a penchant for knitted hats with pom-poms on the top, a chain-smoker who doesn't use ashtrays, and having a perplexing habit of beginning most of his statements with "You know what I mean?", without giving his listener any context or background information. He's quite a womanizer - married three times, and regularly keeping different mistresses over the course of the novel.

His store is at maximum capacity of second-hand goods, from cups and bowls to clothing, appliances to furniture, there was very little rhyme or reason to what one might find. The stock is constantly rotating, being purchased by the neighborhood's colorful residents and nearby college students. Mr. Nakano also goes on regular "pickups", where he drives to clients' homes to examine the keepsakes, trinkets, and castoffs that they want to sell him. This routine means that the stock in the shop is always changing, which keeps customers coming back.

There are three people who work either full or part-time in the thrift shop. The first is Mr. Nakano's older sister, Masayo. Described, at the beginning of the story, as being in her mid-50's and single, Masayo is an artist. She's embroidering, making dolls, printing on fabrics, and her work is featured in local art shows. Mr. Nakano sees her as flamboyant and silly, having a quintessential artistic temperament. He has no qualms about expressing his opinions of her art, her romantic partners, and her life choices. Masayo keeps no schedule, but comes in and out of the shop generally as she pleases. She has great rapport with the customers, and many of them come in just to see her. Besides being a foil for Mr. Nakano, Masayo also functions as a mentor to another thrift shop employee - Hiromi Suganuma.

The second employee, and narrator of THE NAKANO THRIFT SHOP, is Hiromi. In her mid-20's, she spends most of her time running the cash register, reading books, and closing the shop at the end of the day. She loves to eat pie from a neighborhood bakery, and often shares baked goods with Masayo during their tête-à-têtes. The third employee at the Nakano Thrift Shop is the slightly odd and very reserved Takeo Kiryu. Also in his mid-20's, with floppy hair and missing the end of one of his fingers, Takeo was hired to help Mr. Nakano go out on his pickups. After proving his capacity to make shrewd deals with clients, he is gradually sent out more and more on solo trips. Both Hiromi and Takeo are quiet, socially awkward, and lonely. The form a tenuous friendship, and it's the potential blossoming of that friendship into love that makes up the only significant plot-line that extends throughout the entire novel.

Rather than having standard chapters, THE NAKANO THRIFT SHOP is organized into vignettes. Each covers a few days or weeks, and spends that time in the day-to-day lives of the characters. Each chapter is titled after an object, and that object is revealed as the vignette progresses, and plays a role in the plot. After I read the first chapter, and realized how things were structured, I played a game with myself. I noted what object was the title of the vignette and tried to guess how it would appear within the story. How many did I get it right? None. The plotting is so imaginative and well-constructed that I was always surprised with how she integrated the item into the story.

For example, the seventh chapter is titled "Sewing Machine". In none of the previous six was there any mention of a sewing machine, so there's no previous context for the item. In fact, the chapter begins with Mr. Nakano and a business associate developing an online auction site for some of the thrift shop items. They're talking about an item that Takeo is bringing to the shop, from a pickup. He walks in with what turns out to be a life-sized, full-body, stand-up cardboard photo of a Japanese actress and singer. This unusual item was from a 1980's advertising campaign for a sewing machine company. In the photo, she's holding a sewing machine in one hand, and pointing to her chest with the other hand. It is decided that this advertisement will go up for auction on the store's site, but will be displayed in the thrift store in the meantime. Hiromi and Takeo continue their flirtation, until Hiromi initiates a fight between them. Near the end of the chapter, a customer comes in with a large white case, looking for the thrift store to make her an offer for it. It tuns out that inside the case is a sewing machine - identical to the one in the advertisement. Mr. Nakano decides to take the sewing machine, and creates a display with it next to the cardboard photo. He remarks that the photo must not be exactly life-sized, because in person the sewing machine is larger than it appears in the advertisement. This distortion between what is perceived and what is real is symbolic of the relationship between Takeo and Hiromi at that point in the novel. What Hiromi perceives of Takeo may not be quite accurate of his reality, and she makes a mistake that has long-lasting repercussions for both of them.

Other such items include an envelope, a letter opener, a bowl, and a dress. Each is presented in a beautifully mysterious way, and it's through the author's creative storytelling that these common items are given life and power. They, as was the case with the sewing machine, are also more than just everyday goods - they are also symbols of what's going on in the characters' lives, and function on many levels. The ability of the author to imbue these workaday pieces with such meaning and power is example of her creativity and craft.

The novel was translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell, and published in the US by Europa Editions. I found this translation to be incredibly easy to read, and if it hadn't been clearly stated that this was a novel in translation, I would have been tempted to assume it was originally written in English. For me, that is the sign of a well-translated work - that it reads with a natural ease and rhythm. There are no awkward phrases or unnatural-sounding word choices. It was seamless.

If THE NAKANO THRIFT SHOP is indicative of Hiromi Kawakami's oeuvre, then I hope that other of her novels will be translated into English and made widely available. The story was well-crafted and engaging, the characters endearing, and the overall reading experience was one of joy and great contentment. This feeling is rare with modern novels, so having this book on my shelves will allow me to return to it whenever I'm in need of being enveloped by warmth and comfort. ( )
  BooksForYears | Jul 15, 2017 |
While perhaps not quite as haunting or profound as Strange Weather in Tokyo, I highly recommend the subtle charm, entertaining quirkiness and originality of Hiromi Kawakami’s The Nakano Thrift Shop. Read our full review of The Nakano Thrift Shop >> ( )
  BookloverBookReviews | May 19, 2017 |
I am a sucker for books translated from the Japanese. Maybe it’s because I studied Japanese for years (but still can’t read beyond a picture book), maybe it’s because I have a fascination with the country and its people. Whatever it is, if I see a book translated to English from Japanese, I will read it quick sticks. I can’t recall ever having read a poor story written by a Japanese author – they are without a doubt quirky, intriguing and well written. The Nakano Thrift Shop is no exception. The delightfully interesting cover reveals a lovely story about the workers of a thrift shop.

The Nakano thrift shop is not a high class antiques shop, but rather a repository for the everyday second-hand goods. They sometimes get quirky stuff (such as a life-size 80s star cut-out holding a sewing machine) but it’s generally crockery and the odd kotatsu (heated table/blanket). The novel is told through the eyes of Hitomi, a young lady who works on the till. The shop is full of eccentric characters, starting with Mr Nakano, the owner. He’s had multiple wives and usually has one or two mistresses on the go. Despite his regular trips to ‘the bank’, he’s fond of his employees and looks after them well. His sister Masayo is an artist and is very kind hearted to Hitomi (despite Mr Nakano not approving of her lover). Takeo is of a similar age to Hitomi and the pair have a relationship that starts off awkwardly (Takeo is a man of few words), becomes heated and then settles into something that is equal parts awkward and familiar.

Each chapter of the book has its own title and reads like a short story in the lives of the characters at the thrift shop through the changing seasons. More and more of their private lives are gradually revealed as well as some odd situations (Mr Nakano being stabbed, Masayo’s lover’s over controlling landlord). I loved how layer by layer, I found out just a little more about the characters and could excitedly piece together what I knew. This was particularly true of Hitomi and Takeo’s relationship – it was stilted but it was still so fascinating! Perhaps this was because Takeo himself was such an enigma.

The tone of the book was quiet and unhurried, which I enjoyed because I felt it gave me permission to savour every word. Allison Markin Powell’s translation captures the Japanese culture and the subtle melancholy that Hitomi feels. The last chapter, a kind epilogue, ties things up nicely after the dreamy period of the thrift shop for Hitomi but it still left me with several questions to ponder.

This is a sweet and gentle book that will suck you right in to the magic of the characters’ everyday lives.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for the copy of this book. My review is honest.

http://samstillreading.wordpress.com ( )
1 vote birdsam0610 | Sep 10, 2016 |
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