‘The Nakano Thrift Shop’ by Hiromi Kawakami

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‘When I scrutinised love, I still found myself in a world that felt empty’.

The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami, Pg.165

Hiromi Kawakami’s second novel, translated into English by Allison Markin Powell, is a beautifully rendered story of an awkward, introverted young woman who has wound up working in a second-hand junk shop owned by the eccentric and interesting Mr Nakano. A junk shop that sells anything not too high-class or expensive, Mr Nakano has tapped into people’s desire for unnecessary clutter, and it is this backdrop that Kawakami has chosen to introduce the reader to a small, yet fascinating, array of characters.

Told through the first-person narrative of Hitomi, each chapter relates a specific story of an item from the shop and how it ended up there. Although a rather simple device to tell a tale, Kawakami manages to create a seamless narrative of the intertwining lives of Mr Nakano, Hitomi, the incredibly shy and reserved assistant – Takeo, and Nakano’s unmarried, artistic older sister – Masayo, through the inconspicuous donations that clutter the Nakano shop.

‘Takeo arrived, again smelling of soap. For a moment, I wondered if I ought to have taken a shower, but I quickly pushed that thought aside, since had I done so, he might have thought I was expecting something. This was what made love so difficult. Or rather, the difficult thing was first determining whether or not love was what I wanted’.

The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami, Pg.54

What blossoms in the idiosyncratic thrift shop is a heartwarming, yet frustrating, love story between Hitomi and Takeo. Unlike a traditional tale of love, their relationship is besieged by awkwardness. Neither being one to jump in headfirst and both easily scared of being hurt, their relationship comes to a screeching halt almost as soon as it begins. However, Hitomi and Takeo’s is not the only human interaction that is fraught with difficulties. Kawakami highlights the intricacies and delicacies of intimate relationships through different generations. From Mr Nakano and his numerous failed marriages and affairs to his older sister who has chosen to remain unmarried in her fifties despite being in a stable relationship – The Nakano Thrift Shop is a tale of love through the ages.

‘The one I love most in this world. I had no one to say those words to. I hadn’t even felt the desire to say them to someone, ever’.

The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami, Pg.246-7

A beautiful and uplifting read, The Nakano Thrift Shop brings together a cast of characters who, for one reason or another, are slightly removed from Japanese mainstream society. On the surface The Nakano Thrift Shop may seem like an ordinary story, but it is the bonds between the characters that makes this novel a truly stunning work of art.

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