Strange Weather in Tokyo / by Hiromi Kawakami
Translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell, ©2012
Published by Portobello Books, ©2014
Originally Published in Japan in 2001 under the title センセイの鞄 (Sensei no kaban) by Bungei Shunju, Tokyo
Stars: ★★★★ / 5
Tsukiko is in her late 30s and living alone when one night she happens to meet one of her former high school teachers, ‘Sensei’, in a bar. He is at least thirty years her senior, retired and, she presumes, a widower. After this initial encounter, the pair continue to meet occasionally to share food and drink sake, and as the seasons pass – from spring cherry blossom to autumnal mushrooms – Tsukiko and Sensei come to develop a hesitant intimacy which tilts awkwardly and poignantly into love.
This was a wonderful first novel to read for the year!
I had received this book for my birthday… and less than a week later, I’m writing a review for it. I haven’t read a lot of prose novels in recent years, so this is a pretty big deal for me.
I had actually requested this. But, I had no previous exposure to this author and her writing. I just was intrigued by the cover design of a girl seemingly floating in what appears to be a “convenience store.” I’ve been to a store that looked like this when I visited a friend in the countryside of Chiba prefecture. It was part convenience store, part grocery and part ice cream stop. We had chestnut soft-serve, and fishcakes from Fukushima and the experience was entirely surreal and floaty like this image. This image is sublime. [FYI, According to the back cover it is called “Today’s Levitation” by Natsumi Hayashi]
I was pleased to find this to be exactly what I look for in a romance. It feels nostalgic, lonely and bitter-sweet. It focuses on the meeting of minds, or an emotional sense of ease with someone and NOT on merely physical attraction. It features my favourite couple relationship of a student and her teacher! And even more importantly at a time in the student’s life where she’s old enough that this large of an age gap doesn’t make the teacher feel lecherous or predatory in any way.
This really checked ALL of the boxes for me!
This is a very short novel (or is this a novella) at just under 180 pages. So it is very quick to read. The language is simple, yet lyrical. Kawakami’s writing is so easy to get into. I was really impressed with this translation by Allison Markin Powell. In my opinion, the writing retained some of its Japanese qualities while also sounding completely natural in English.
I think the only reason this doesn’t receive 5 stars from me is that I found it in some places too long (which is strange to state for such a short book). Right about the 100 page mark, I fell out of the story for about a chapter. I don’t know if I was just tired, or if the writing was too dry… I don’t know but, I will definitely be reading this again in the future and I may, at that time, go back and re-rate this. But for now, I can at least say that this was a wonderful novel – and I would recommend it to someone whose looking for a quiet, understated and less conventional romance.
I’ve already placed an order on Hiromi Kawakami’s novel The Nakano Thrift Shop and can’t wait to read it as well!