Originally published: 6 August 2020
Author: Hiromi Kawakami
Translated By: Ted Goossen
Published by: Granta Books
Genre: Short Stories
Length: 128 pages
Reading dates: 28 August-1 September 2020
Take a story and shrink it. Make it tiny, so small it can fit in the palm of your hand. Carry the story with you everywhere, let it sit with you while you eat, let it watch you while you sleep. Keep it safe, you never know when you might need it. In Kawakami’s super short ‘palm of the hand’ stories the world is never quite as it should be: a small child lives under a sheet near his neighbour’s house for thirty years; an apartment block leaves its visitors with strange afflictions, from fast-growing beards to an ability to channel the voices of the dead; an old man has two shadows, one docile, the other rebellious; two girls named Yoko are locked in a bitter rivalry to the death. Small but great, you’ll find great delight spending time with the people in this neighbourhood.
I’m always keen to try something different with the books I read and when I was offered a chance to read People From My Neighbourhood by Hiromi Kawakami as part of the Women In Translation Month, I jumped at the chance.
A very short book at just 128 pages long, there are 36 micro stories contained within, each just 2-3 pages long all set in a small and strange Japanese suburb. Told by an anonymous narrator in a very matter of fact style, the stories talk about the rather unusual inhabitants of the neighbourhood and the strange occurances that take place there.
In one of the stories there is a lottery every three months in which the loser has to look after a boy called Hachiro – a big eater and a troublemaker at school, it is considered bad luck to have to look after him. In another story the narrator describes a highly contagious disease called Pigeonitis in which the inflicted person literally turns into a pigeon for a short time. In another story there is a no-gravity event in which there was no gravity for an afternoon and in another there is a school made of sweets.
These stories are entertaining and quirky and I did enjoy them but for such a short book, it looks me a long time to read. I think the reason was the brevity of the stories meant I never fully engaged with them. I’m really pleased I read this book though as it is certainly very different to anything I have read before.
Thank you so much to Tandem Collective for inviting me to be part of the Instagram readalong and to Granta Books for a copy of the book.
About the author:
Kawakami Hiromi (川上 弘美 Kawakami Hiromi) born April 1, 1958, is a Japanese writer known for her off-beat fiction.
Born in Tokyo, Kawakami graduated from Ochanomizu Women’s College in 1980. She made her debut as “Yamada Hiromi” in NW-SF No. 16, edited by Yamano Koichi and Yamada Kazuko, in 1980 with the story So-shimoku (“Diptera”), and also helped edit some early issues of NW-SF in the 1970s. She reinvented herself as a writer and wrote her first book, a collection of short stories entitled God (Kamisama) published in 1994. Her novel The Teacher’s Briefcase (Sensei no kaban) is a love story between a woman in her thirties and a man in his sixties. She is also known as a literary critic and a provocative essayist.