Review of ‘The Nakano Thrift Shop’ by Hiromi Kawakami

Translated by Allison Markin Powell, this quirky novel is a contemporary love story which examines the mysteries of other people’s lives. It’s about the fear of intimacy versus the fear of being alone, and also the differences between generations. It felt very Japanese to me, by which I mean that I didn’t always understand what the characters were discussing, because it was written for a Japanese audience. Mostly I liked this book; it has an offbeat charm and the characters are well-drawn. There is not much of a plot, so the appeal rests on the above qualities.

Hitomi is the narrator, a young woman who works at a second-hand goods shop which is owned by the eccentric Mr Nakano. She’s fascinated by her employer, who gets tangled in love affairs and is in conflict with his sister, the arty Masayo. Also working at the shop is Takeo, a somewhat grumpy young man whose mutual attraction to Hitomi is constantly repressed. Neither of them can decide what kind of relationship they want. It seems easier to occasionally have dinner and sex than to have an actual romance. They edge around each other and leave things unsaid. Hitomi’s emotions are buried beneath her words and actions. It’s like everyone is playing a game but no one knows the rules.

Food is a frequent presence in the story, as characters share meals while discussing their problems. Used goods and antiques are a significant element too, tying into the theme of generational differences. Some of the characters are very minor, drifting in and out of the story as they do in real life. I felt that the book was a little too long and my interest in it decreased towards the end. I think this was inevitable considering the slow pace and minimal plot.

First published in Japan in 2005. This English edition published in 2016.

12 thoughts on “Review of ‘The Nakano Thrift Shop’ by Hiromi Kawakami”

  1. I love quirky stories like this. Quiet and slow. Great for a ‘me time’ read for me but probably not at the moment with two kids lol Love your review, NS! ❤️

    1. Thank you Jee! 🙂
      That’s an accurate description of the kind of read it is.
      I know it’s hard to get into a book sometimes when the kids are around 😉
      I have learnt to block out the noise and just keep reading 😀

      1. I salute you! I am still learning how to do that! However, I’m still going to add that book to my TBR! And I love that cover! Spoke to me 😀

  2. I’m always thoroughly amazed by the mind of Japanese writers. Murakami being the last one I tried (excluding all the manga I’m reading) and he sure does have quite the imagination. It’s nice to see that even if it was so obvious to you that it was targeting a Japanese audience, you were still able to enjoy this. Great review!

    1. I have read a few Japanese books now (translated obviously, I’m not that clever) and they have been imaginative and a little eccentric with a philosophical tone. I’m sure there are others which are not like that, but I guess the quirkier ones are those that are picked up for translation!
      Norwegian Wood is my favourite Murakami.
      Thanks for commenting ☺

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