*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Title: Breasts and Eggs
Author: Meiko Kawakami
Publisher: Europa Editions
Publication Date: April 7, 2020 (First published in 2008)
Breasts and Eggs tells the story of three women: thirty-year-old Natsuko, her older sister Makiko, and Makiko’s daughter, Midoriko. Makiko has traveled to Tokyo in search of an affordable breast enhancement procedure. She is accompanied by Midoriko, who has recently grown silent, finding herself unable to voice the vague yet overwhelming pressures associated with growing up. Her silence proves a catalyst for each woman to confront her fears and frustrations. On another hot summer’s day ten years later, Natsuko, on a journey back to her native city, struggles with her own indeterminate identity as she confronts anxieties about growing old alone. This book recounts the intimate journeys of three women as they confront oppressive mores and their own uncertainties on the road to finding peace and futures they can truly call their own.
What first drew me to this book was the beautiful, minimalist cover of the English translation. The pale cover and the quiet spherical graphic on the front, accompanied by the author and title in a bold but unadorned font, was an intriguing enough artistic statement for me to know this was a book I had to read. This beautiful cover is an incredible reflection of the complicated story of womanhood and family that lays within the pages. Breasts and Eggs is an astute exploration of womanhood, femininity, sisterhood, motherhood, and the female body in Japan.
Kawakami directs a lens on the protagonist, Natsuko, and her sister and neice, and posthumously on Natsuko’s mother and grandmother. This intergenerational exploration delves into what it means to be a mother and to be a woman making a way for herself alone in the world, as well as the implication that this life situation has culturally, economically, and emotionally. It looks at trauma from one generation to the next, especially in a situation of poverty and questions if it’s possible for one woman to break away from the bounds and confines of the previous generation, or is each woman destined to struggle as her mother did before her.
As Natsuko ages, her perspective of herself, and each of the women in her family, evolves as she comes to learn more about herself and the women who surround her in her own life. As she confronts her own inability to partake in sex, distances herself from romantic relationships, and contemplates sperm donation to become a mother herself, she is forced to confront many difficult questions about her own motivations and her own self-perception. Her own sister’s obsession with breast enlargement has Natsuko questioning the female body and the pressures we and society put on ourselves to be and look a certain way. She seeks answers to her own desires to govern her body without question or judgement, an impossibility within her culture as she contemplates becoming a mother of her own accord.
The two chapters of this book are actually two separate novellas, written roughly a decade apart, brought together into one. There is certainly a difference between the two, however similarity of theme, as well as the recognizable age difference of the characters in time, unites these two halves together into one whole. Natsuko is a character that floats through time, often seemingly disjointed and inert in her career and her ability to move forward to a decision. These characteristics bring about a much more contemplative tone throughout the book so the reader is driven through by her inner monologue rather than substantial outward actions. This story is really meant to be contemplative, to encourage the reader to ask questions, and to confront similar themes of what womanhood means to each individual.