January 29, 2013

The Briefcase by Hiromi Kawakami


Tsukiko, thirty-eight, works in an office and lives alone. One night, she happens to meet one of her former high school teachers, “Sensei” in a local bar. Tsukiko had only ever called him “Sensei” (“Teacher”). He is thirty years her senior, retired, and presumably a widower. Their relationship– traced by Kawakami’s gentle hints at the changing seasons– develops from a perfunctory acknowledgment of each other as they eat and drink alone at the bar, to an enjoyable sense of companionship, and finally into a deeply sentimental love affair.
As Tsukiko and Sensei grow to know and love one another, time’s passing comes across through the seasons and the food and beverages they consume together. From warm sake to chilled beer, from the buds on the trees to the blooming of the cherry blossoms, the reader is enveloped by a keen sense of pathos and both characters’ keen loneliness. (Overview from Barnes and Noble)

This novel is a love story as only the Japanese can tell. It is lovely, and tender, and ultimately ephemerel, and it stays with the reader long after the book is finished. As always, upon finishing such a work, I am deeply moved.

I only have one question.

Why is it named The Briefcase? Why is the Sensei's briefcase empty when Tsukikio finally peers inside? For me, it is because once someone leaves this world there is so much emptiness left behind...

I'm looking forward to reading the thoughts of others, and I'm glad that I read this with Tony for the conclusion of January in Japan. As well as for the Japanese Literature Challenge 6.

Find other thoughts from Tanabata, Tony, Stu, and Caroline.

18 comments:

  1. Japanese Lit always leaves me with so much to think about after. I've really grown to appreciate these types of novels. This one sounds terrific to me. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I agree, Diane. More than any other kind of literature, Japanese creates an aura, or something to think about, long after the novel is finished.

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  2. This one sounds wonderful, Bellezza. I love books that stay with you long after you've finished. And, seriously, why is it called The Briefcase? That is such a weird name for a love story.

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    1. I'm going to have to go around to the other posts for this book which Tony hosted to see if I can find any answers.

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  3. This is one for the list. although that list is now well beyond the horizon 7 i believe any day soon will be sneaking up behind me ;-}

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    1. Some day, your list and my list will touch each other...from the US to the UK.

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  4. I am looking forward to joining Japanese Lit 6 and possibly reading this one. Looks very good.

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    1. The Japanese Literature Challenge 7 will be coming around this summer; sadly the JLC6 has just finished. But, there are so many titles from which to choose from posts people have left on the site! I do hope you'll join us, Harvee.

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  5. This one sounds so intriguing to me. I've not read any Japanese literature and am ashamed to say that. This could be a good starting point as the books seems straight forward.

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    1. Kathleen, I had not read any Japanese literature until six years ago. That's the great thing about blogging about books: a.) there's so much to discover and b.) there's nothing to be ashamed about!

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  6. just in the middle of this loving it and agree very japanese ,my review be up tomorrow ,all the best stu

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    1. Isn't it beautiful, Stu? The writing, the mood, the story...all of it is just entrancing to me.

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  7. I liked it very much as well. It's so lovely. I hadn't thought of that interpretation of the title.

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    1. I'm open to other intepretations, believe me!

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  8. This sounds like a beautiful story. I have to admit that I don't read a lot of work in translation - it is definitely something I should work on.

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    1. I'm never sure if the translations are spot on, but at least they make literature from other countries available to me, and for that I'm grateful.

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  9. That sounds lovely. I always like Japanese fiction because it raises as many questions as it solves! Forces me to give my imagination a workout.

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    1. For that reason, and the way that Japanese authors are able to create a mood, I'm so crazy about this genre.

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