What do a dog school principal, an old man with two shadows and a blue-eyed Japanese fortune-teller have in common? They’re all characters inhabiting Hiromi Kawakami’s delightful and haunting world in her latest collection of stories, “People From My Neighbourhood.”
Translated by Ted Goossen
Through interlinking vignettes, Kawakami’s narrators regale readers with tales of small-town Japan over many years, and the stories are as inventive as they are entertaining. 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.
Kawakami slowly builds a familiar cast of characters, including herself; Kanae, her friend and a juvenile delinquent; Hachiro, the youngest of 15 children; Dolly, a girl with magical powers who has returned from America; and a host of weird and weirder adults.
“People From My Neighbourhood” is the perfect afternoon read. Each story takes just a few minutes to get through and offers a delicious combination of intrigue, magic and comedy, like an unusual but satisfying snack. Kawakami continues to show off her prowess as a sharp-witted writer with a keen eye for the unexplored mysteries of humanity.