Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami was originally published as a novella in Japan in 2008 and 10 years later expanded into a full novel, splitting these two stories into ‘Book One’ and ‘Book Two’. Translated into English, this novel was released here earlier this year. At its core, this is a story about birth and death. Kawakami really focuses in on the question ‘why were we born?’ through the eyes of the narrator Natsuko, a single Japanese woman living in Tokyo. This book is blunt, sharp and at times funny.
In book one Makiko, the sister of Natsuko, travels to Tokyo with her teenage daughter Midorko, who no longer speaks to her. Each of the women are grappling with parts of their bodies, Makiko wants breast implants to fix her ageing body, Midoriko is disgusted with her changing body and Natsuko who is not a mother, no longer a daughter sees her Mum and Grandma everywhere and reflects on their past lives.
In book two Natsuko is center stage, now a published author trying to write her second book in her late 30’s, wonders what it would be like to have a child. She heads down the path of seeking a sperm donor, not something Japan as a conformist society sees as a right single woman should be entitled too. In book two the use of multiple perspectives, also used in book one, really draws you into the ethics of the use of sperm donors in Japan through the deep conversations between the children of donors and Natsuko.
Kawakami’s ability to portray the complex feelings surrounding reproduction for women is remarkably brilliant. In the same vain, the writing about bodies is suitably frank, reflective of the intense scrutiny that women subject themselves too. This book also takes us on a journey of identity, individualism and Japan’s class systems. A personal highlight for me was to read Kawakami’s words on everyday life in Japan, the food, the drinks and the weather all bring this story to life.
This novel won’t be for everyone, it is at times a dense read, but if you are interested in attitudes towards women’s reproductive rights this is an utterly fascinating perspective from a different culture.