The BriefcaseThe Briefcase by Hiromi Kawakami
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

not a book for everyone, for sure. you have to like slightly odd japanese fiction.

this one is about a young-ish woman (38) who falls for a retired former teacher (Sensei). not quite a may/december romance–maybe august/december.

i alas cannot read japanese, so i don’t know whether the oddball is a common character in the whole of japanese literature. in japanese-lit-in-translation, there are so many oddballs one could be forgiven for believing that the entire nation is just one very big, polite asylum.

so! our heroine, slowly, over a zillion lovingly-described seasonal meals, falls for the old guy. food is big, big, big in this book. if you took out all the food descriptions, the book would be half its slight heft. which is not a complaint against the book, at all. all that food gives you something to think about while you watch the tension between the two ratchet up to sometimes nerve-racking degrees.

it does seem to me a peculiarity of japanese-literature-in-translation that this minute examination of emotion is far more common than action. nothing much happens in a lot of japanese lit; food gets eaten, trips taken, clothing examined. in a lot of cases these external non-events are recorded just as dispassionately and removed as are the characters themselves. our heroine goes about seemingly muffled in cotton, as far as the world is concerned, but she is exquisitely attuned to Sensei.

maybe because the actual world is for the most part just background, such huge tension can accrue to a gesture, an ill-chosen word, a moment passed.

as a reader, you travel through this book wondering: will they ever kiss? declare love? hold hands, even?

it’s maybe an acquired taste, this novelistic delicacy. but if you like that sort of thing, along with descriptions of parboiled octopus and fresh edamame, you’re in for a treat.