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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

People from My Neighborhood

Kawakami Hiromi

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To purchase People from My Neighborhood

Title: People from My Neighborhood
Author: Kawakami Hiromi
Genre: Stories
Written: 2016 (Eng. 2020)
Length: 159 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: People from My Neighborhood - US
People from My Neighbourhood - UK
People from My Neighborhood - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Twenty-six of the thirty-six stories in this collection first appeared in このあたりの人たち (2016)
  • Translated by Ted Goossen

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely twisted and done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times A 29/7/2020 Louise Lucas
The Japan Times A 10/10/2020 Eric Margolis
The NY Times Book Rev. A+ 19/12/2021 Brenda Peynado

  From the Reviews:
  • "The interlinking short stories in this collection are fairy tales in the best Brothers Grimm tradition: naïf, magical and frequently veering into the macabre. (...) Kawakami’s clean narrative style is very much her own (.....) While the stories may be universal, there remains something very Japanese at the core. (...) People from My Neighbourhood is an excellent addition to that cannon." - Louise Lucas, Financial Times

  • "Ranging from the familiar to the fantastic, short stories of five pages or less present a unique fusion of neighborhood drama, folk mythology and magical realism. The tight, clearheaded prose is beautifully translated by Ted Goossen (who also translates Haruki Murakami), and each story draws readers in with a puzzling mystery or a strange character. Almost none of the conflicts are resolved, and if there is a fault to be found in the book, it’s that many of the stories lead to the same kind of curious, unresolved conclusion" - Eric Margolis, The Japan Times

  • "It’s a vision that astounds even as it shrugs, the stories soaring to the grandness of princesses and world domination, but also descending to children squabbling inside a sandbox and the simple powerlessness of the neighborhood dog. (...) Kawakami’s style traffics in brevity, giving us images distilled to their core, sentences that go directly to the heart, and the narrative command to deliver entire lives within one sweeping breath. Her characters leap off the page. The clarity of her prose only serves to deepen the real mysteries, the hidden detritus of human life." - Brenda Peynado, The New York Times Book Review

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:

       People from My Neighborhood is a collection of thirty-four short stories cum vignettes set in and around the same locale, the narrator's neighborhood. Many are set largely when she was a child, but the pieces cover a large stretch of time -- "Ten years passed, then twenty and more" in one, for example -- and we see several of the recurring characters at different stages in their lives, or learn what became of them over the years. The narrator's own family barely rates much mention here; the focus really is on the (other) people in the neighborhood, with classmate Kanae (and also Kanae's older sister) among the characters that the narrator interacts with the most.
       The first piece, 'The Secret', already sets much of the mood for the collection's -- and this place's -- strangeness, the narrator describing coming across a child in the wild who then follows (or leads) her home -- and makes itself at home there. The boy occasionally disappears for a while but always returns -- and that over decades: "He's been with me now for thirty years", she admits. And that in an unchanging state, as: "I've come to realize that he can't be human after all, seeing how he's stayed the same all these years". (Somewhat similarly, in the later 'Baby', she describes an unusual type of creature making its way to the neighborhood and settling there: "Who would take it home was determined by a lottery. It would never grow up, but would stay a baby. It would live, on average, eighty years. As a result, every one of us prayed not to be chosen".)
       There are several lottery-variations, such as that described in 'The Hachirō Lottery', the *winning* family having to take care of local boy Hachirō for three months, a lottery played out until Hachirō finishes junior high and is old enough not to need familial oversight. The local shopping arcade also holds an annual lottery, where the grand pirze is the proverbial three wishes, with even the wildest granted -- the narrator describing a recent winner who: "made the same sort of stupid mistakes you see in fairy tales", while the most recent winner -- the owner of the local dive, Love -- thinks very big (and seems quite successful at it).
       The neighborhood is a place where there is occasionally a "no-gravity event", with the earth's pull weakening and stopping, and anything that's not secured floating up and away (and then coming back down to earth, as the events don't last too long). There's also -- for a time -- a House of Sweets, with a huge school made of chocolate and sweets; it's successful for a while, but runs into a number of problems -- not least, finally, the summer heat, which it isn't really built to withstand. And one housing development on the outskirts of town gets very independent, minting its own currency and eventually: "It seceded from Japan and formed its own armed forces, which sometimes held maneuvers in Tokyo Bay".
       There's also the somewhat more conventional, from a vicious local dog to the occasional Sports Day -- though when the local bank sponsors it, the competitions are not very athletic, but rather: "competitions for best loan evaluation, best anti-fraud strategy for direct deposits, best marketing of financial products"; unsurprisingly, the most popular one is the money-counting competition (but, yes, "no event involved any form of physical activity").
       Beginning with the creature that the narrator took in in the opening piece, there are a number of unnatural figures that are part of the neighborhood. It's a place where they sometimes find: "What we had thought was a child was actually a large bird", and where "a very stinky thing" matures into: "something shaped like a human being" (though: "It still stank"). And there's Sakai -- normal-seeming until: "what we had called Sakai turned into a large swarm of flies and flew away".
       Kawakami neatly makes the surreal seem part of the ordinary in this neighborhood; despite all the unusual happenings and creatures, it's also, in many ways, very down to earth, its quirkiness presented as a variation on the kind you'd expect to find in any neighborhood -- even as many of these aspects of it are completely absurd. It's very well done and good fun, the bite-size stories conveying a great deal in a very short space, while the recurring characters also give a sense of cohesiveness and continuity.
       A very enjoyable collection.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 July 2023

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People from My Neighborhood: 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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© 2023 the complete review

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