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Thirty-year-old Natsu lives in Tokyo, having moved from Osaka to pursue her dream to be a writer, when her sister Makiko and young niece Midoriko come to visit. But this isn’t a typical family reunion—in Mieko Kawakami’s novel, translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd, Makiko is in town to find a clinic for a breast enhancement procedure and, for reasons she can’t quite understand, her daughter has recently stopped speaking to her. In Midoriko’s silence, the women become attuned to their own fears related to growing older and their changing bodies. It’s a sharply observed and heartbreaking portrait of what it means to be a woman, in Japan and beyond. The second half of the novel finds the characters still grappling with these struggles 10 years later. In describing Natsu’s life as a childless woman at odds with an identity she did not anticipate, the novel highlights the anxieties that accompany contemporary womanhood in aching and wonderfully absurd terms.

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