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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Nakano Thrift Shop

Kawakami Hiromi

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To purchase The Nakano Thrift Shop

Title: The Nakano Thrift Shop
Author: Kawakami Hiromi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 229 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Nakano Thrift Shop - US
The Nakano Thrift Shop - UK
The Nakano Thrift Shop - Canada
La brocante Nakano - France
Herr Nakano und die Frauen - Deutschland
Le donne del signor Nakano - Italia
El señor Nakano y las mujeres - España
  • Japanese title: 古道具 中野商店
  • Translated by Allison Markin Powell

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine small slice-of-lives novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 20/3/2009 Stephan Gnam
The NY Times Book Rev. . 13/8/2017 Janice P. Nimura
TLS . 21/9/2016 George Berridge
Wall St. Journal . 16/6/2017 Sam Sacks
Die Zeit . 12/3/2009 Ludger Lütkehaus

  From the Reviews:
  • "Die bedeutungsvolle Dingwelt steht kontrapunktisch zur Statik der Akteure, im suggestiv-sogkräftigen Liebesreigen orchestrieren die Objekte der Sammlerbegierde amouröse Handlungsstränge." - Stephan Gnam, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Kawakamiís latest translated work is less a novel than a series of hyper-real pictures at an exhibition, bursts of closely observed detail leaving out much of the why and wherefore that link one to the next. (...) The Nakano Thrift Shop may lack the standard features of a novel -- back story, narrative momentum, character development -- but it captures an untranslatable Japanese mood." - Janice P. Nimura, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(A) charming love story that skilfully blends the authorís unique and surprising syncopations -- here translated by Allison Markin Powell -- with a traditional Japanese prose rich in natural imagery." - George Berridge, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Thereís a feline quality to their relationship that readers of forthright temperament may find maddening. (...) The eccentricities of the side characters add to the quiet charm of the coupleís maturation." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

  • "Auf nichts Allgemeines, Prinzipielles hat es die Autorin abgesehen. Alles irgendwie Bedeutsame wird ignoriert. (...) Kawakami Hiromi scheut das Happy End, die glückliche Liebe nicht. Aber ihr gelingt es, das Pathos zu meiden, ohne ihre Liebesgeschichten an die Banalität zu verraten." - Ludger Lütkehaus, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Nakano Thrift Shop is essentially a year-in-the-life novel of a young woman -- the narrator, Hitomi --, uncertain of what she wants to do with herself and idling away time working as a shop assistant in a small thrift store. The novel progresses roughly month by month from chapter to chapter, covering a year, until the final chapter, which jumps some three years ahead and provides a what-became-of-them coda.
       There is a quartet of main characters, whose lives intersect at the Nakano thrift shop run by Haruo Nakano; aside from Mr. Nakano and shop assistant Hitomi there is another young assistant, Takeo, and Mr.Nakano's artist-sister, Masayo. Beyond this inner circle, there are a variety of hangers-on -- regular customers, associates, lovers, and the like -- and all in all, as Masayo sums up about the quirky assemblage: "Very strange indeed -- everyone in this shop".
       The store is one filled with: "second-hand goods (not antiques)", including everyday household objects. In fact -- and tellingly -- Hitomi has furnished much of her own apartment with goods purchased there. While Hitomi's duties mainly involve minding the store, Takeo generally goes on runs to purchase and pick up new goods, usually with Mr.Nakano. Early on, they also begin experimenting with auctioning some goods on the internet.
       Mr.Nakano is something of a ladies' man -- on his third wife, but juggling mistresses on the side, most notably, during this period, Sakiko. Masayo also is involved with a man in a somewhat complicated relationship, while Hitomi is drawn to the the listless Takeo -- who admits to her at one point: "I just don't have that much interest in doing it" (i.e. having sex).
       Each chapter is an episode-in-the-lives, loosely focused around some customer or object or some small adventure the characters have. Kawakami expertly captures both the sameness to the store and its routines from month to month and the underlying changes, both the subtle and the more obvious. Hitomi and Takeo get closer and then fall far apart; Nakano uneasily navigates his relationship with Sakiko; Masayo is involved with her art (and her man). Sex frequently crops up, in discussion and occasionally practice, the characters moving ueasily around the complicated subject. Hitomi and Takeo's physical involvement remains awkward, while Nakano doesn't know how to handle Sakiko's very explicit erotic writing.
       Much of the charm and success of the novel comes from its narrator and her eye, and its focus on the mundane and the quirky; as Takeo tells her:

You pay attention to such odd things, Hitomi.
       The chapters can almost stand as separate stories, and the novel as a whole only provides some secondary arcs that run from beginning to end. For the most part, Hitomi -- and the others -- stumble ahead, or in place, trying different things out but unable to commit themselves fully (especially to any other person in particular). Predictably, it takes the actual closing of the store for the characters to move on -- as the final chapter then suggest they have, in their different ways, some more successfully than others. Kawakami doesn't lead her characters to too neat ends, either: yes, Mr.Nakano opens a new store -- but it's only a short term lease, "I think about six months"; yes, Hitomi has resumed her studies and been working steadily -- but only on temporary contracts. Takeo, meanwhile, reappears surprisingly in Hitomi's life, a second chance suggesting itself in both new and old surroundings.
       It is nicely tied up, too, with the four main characters briefly, leisurely reunited, the Nakano shop a part of their lives now behind them but also lingering on.
       A charming, meandering novel that avoids easy satisfactions, The Nakano Thrift Shop is an agreeably wistful read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 March 2017

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The Nakano Thrift Shop: Reviews: Other books by Kawakami Hiromi under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Kawakami Hiromi (川上 弘美) was born in 1958.

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© 2017-2023 the complete review

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