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Mieko Kawakami

Författare till Breasts and Eggs

25+ verk 2,012 medlemmar 73 recensioner 2 favoritmärkta

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Verk av Mieko Kawakami

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Allmänna fakta

Vedertaget namn
Kawakami, Mieko
Land (för karta)



What connects these two linked novel(la)s that focus so greatly on being female in contemporary Japan is an existential worry with a religious and philosophical history going back to ancient times. From Book One:
"Do you have any idea how scared I am? I don't get it, any of it. My eyes hurt. They hurt. Why does everything change? Why? It hurts. Why was I born? Why did any of us have to be born? If we were never born, none of these things would have happened, none of it would - "

From Book Two:
"You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?" She exhaled through her nose. "it's really simple, I promise. Why is it that people think this is okay? Why do people see no harm in having children? They do it with smiles on their faces, as if it's not an act of violence. You force this other being into the world, this other being that never asked to be born. You do this absurd thing because that's what you want for yourself... Once they've had a baby, most parents would do anything to shelter them from any form of pain or suffering. But here it is, the only way to actually keep your child from ever knowing pain. Don't have them in the first place... No one should be doing this," Yuriko nearly whispered. "Nobody."

This is the antinatalist viewpoint, popularized in recent times by the philosopher David Benatar in his 2006 book [b:Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence|660518|Better Never to Have Been The Harm of Coming into Existence|David Benatar||646592]. Writing, "It is curious that while good people go to great lengths to spare their children from suffering, few of them seem to notice that the one (and only) guaranteed way to prevent all the suffering of their children is not to bring those children into existence in the first place," Benatar traces this idea back to Sophocles (“Never to have been born is best") and even into the Bible ("I have praised the dead that are already dead more than the living that are yet alive; but better than both of them is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil work that is done under the sun" - Ecclesiastes).

Benatar argues that there is a mismatch between pleasure and pain. While pleasure's presence is good and pain's presence is bad, pleasure's absence is not bad if there is no one existing to miss it, while pain's absence is always good. Since existing results in both pleasure and pain, while not existing results in missing pleasure, which is not bad, and missing pain, which is good, not existing is better. Thus the ethical choice is to not have children, to not bring a being into existence as it would have been better off not existing.

Book Two of Breasts and Eggs presents this argument and asks if it convinces an adult considering procreation, while Book One asks, from the point of view of a child, if it's true or not. Kawakami's text doesn't offer a clear answer I don't think, leaving it to the reader to consider if they so choose to... not being a question that most people actually ever consider, I don't think.

In Book One, originally an independent novella, a woman in Tokyo is visited by her sister and 12 year old niece. The niece, Midoriko, is suffering through the early stages of adolescence and has stopped talking to her single mother, Makiko, only writing short responses to her on a pad of paper. Makiko drinks to escape her own pain and has come to Tokyo for a breast implant consultation, something she has become obsessed with. The combination of her own painful transition into womanhood and her mother's painful experiencing of womanhood has pushed Midoriko into a highly charged but blocked emotional state.

This impasse breaks open in a stunning scene in her aunt Natsuko's kitchen in Tokyo. She confronts her mother, sobbing, smashing raw eggs into her own head, begging for something that she's unable to clearly articulate. Makiko is unable to provide her daughter a verbal reassurance that makes sense, that makes all the suffering understandable and true. So,

Face smeared with yolk and shell, she stood and went back to Midoriko, grabbed another egg, and cracked it right between her eyes. Midoriko was still in tears but paying close attention, watching everything. She grabbed another egg for herself and rammed it into her temple. Its insides ran down her cheek, followed by bits of shell. Makiko grabbed the last two eggs, then broke them on her face, one after the other, then turned to me.
"No more?" she asked.
"There's some in the fridge," I said.

This award winning novella is fantastic. Powerful and tight and a perfect length, and as above, occasionally funny in the middle of all of it. For its English language publication, a second story has been added afterwards picking these characters up about a decade later. This second story is twice as long, far more meandering and a bit of a slog to get through though not without merit as well. It features Natsuko, now a successful writer struggling to finish a second novel, while perhaps actually more focused on how she can have a child. Single and asexual, as a woman in Japan she faces high barriers to fulfilling a desire she can't quite rationally explain the existence of, but which nevertheless powerfully drives her onward, even in the face of another character's arguments against having children as noted above.

There's a lot of discussion in this second section about what it means to have a child and what it means to be a woman, either with children or childless/childfree. How the characters deal with and try to escape the misogyny that surrounds them. There's also a lot of sagging exposition that makes it harder to enjoy and recommend it.

5 stars for Book One, 3 stars for Book Two, so 4 stars together.
… (mer)
lelandleslie | 30 andra recensioner | Feb 24, 2024 |
Breasts and Eggs is really two novels in one.

Part one follows our main character as she hosts her sister, who wants a boob job she can't afford, and her niece. who is going through puberty and the angst surrounding it all. It's the highlight of the novel, and as a standalone novella, is one of the most visceral explorations of the female body and women's beauty expectations I've ever read. It's a heartbreaking and all-too-common story of single-parenthood, unease in growing into a body you don't want, and frankly, poverty.

Part two is much longer: it follows the same main character, this time debating if she should go through a sperm donation to have a child by herself, while navigating her writing career and feelings for others as someone unable and unwilling to have sexual intercourse. It covers about 2/3 of the novel and like the former, is written as a string of dialogues about parenthood had with the main character. It's a really interesting and invigorating construction; a bit film like, a bit dreamlike.

As I noted though, the book felt more like two novels: part one and two are definitely linked by character and theme, but the time shift, the length, and the focus were almost too different to fit together with ease. The second part also... dragged. I felt its length at times, and not in a good way. I wish the class themes would have continued in the second part as well, but oh well. The ending was similarly quite ambivalent to me: I thought the buildup of this novel would lead to acceptance and joy of childlessness, or at least something akin to it, but... I don't know. I can tell how important a work like this would be to women in contemporary Japan, and I'm glad it exists.

In all, the prose was captivating and the translation awesome, and I'd love to read more of her work. But. The plot got kind of lost halfway and I can't say it's perfect.
… (mer)
Eavans | 30 andra recensioner | Feb 22, 2024 |
Een 14-jarige jongen wordt op school gepest omdat hij een lui oog heeft. Hij verzet zich niet tegen het geweld van zijn klasgenoten en lijdt in stilte. De enige die het begrijpt wat hij doormaakt, is een meisje uit zijn klas dat ook wordt gepest
huizenga | 25 andra recensioner | Jan 16, 2024 |
3.5 rounded up. Enjoyed the writing and the first half was a solid four stars. The second half felt like stories I've already read about women deciding when/if/how to have children.
mmcrawford | 30 andra recensioner | Dec 5, 2023 |



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