Cover Image: Breasts and Eggs

Breasts and Eggs

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Member Reviews

This was a good read, which kept me interested from beginning to end.  I enjoyed the prose, and was intrigued by the characters, and where their stories would lead.
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I haven't read much Japanese literature, but the fact that Breasts and Eggs was published by Europa Editions piqued my interest - they really do a great job of bringing excellent books from many societies to a broader audience. As an American, I really appreciate this because we don't seem to get much lit from outside our own borders, which is very sad to me. At any rate, we now have Mieko Kawakame's Breasts and Eggs, translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd, to read and ponder. 

The book is centered on Natsuko, her sister Makiko, and her niece Midoriko.  Makiko has come to Tokyo to look for a clinic where she can get breast enhancement surgery done at an affordable price. Midoriko comes with her mother to Tokyo, and they stay with Natsuko, who lives alone. Midoriko, at 13, is going through her own issues with her changing body and society, and has withdrawn from her mother, refusing to speak to her, relying instead on paper and pen to write any necessary responses. 

The second part of the book takes place ten years later, when Natsuko, having found some success as a writer, is still puzzling over becoming a mother in light of her own idiosyncrasies and Japanese society's expectations of women. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this one.
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Overall very well written, and there was a definite connection between me and the characters. So much so that I did tear up at one point in book two.

The reason this isn't 5 stars primarily has to do with the fact that book two feels very drawn out, and then the ending feels like it comes a bit too sudden after being that drawn out. I did like most of what was going on, but still overall it just felt like book two was so incredibly long when it really wasn't that long at all. I also just liked the side plots more than the main plot going on in book two. 

I liked book one more and I felt more connection to the story at that point. Also felt better paced overall. The development of the relationships in book 1, as well as the backstory was done very well. 

Book two it just felt like walking through mud sometimes, with a few exciting interludes.
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Breasts and Eggs follows two sisters and the elder sister's daughter. The present day timelines takes place in Tokyo, whereas flashbacks of the sisters growing up take you back to Osaka.

I started reading this book when I was in Osaka for the first time, in Japan for the first time, and I'm so glad I did. Little details in this book opened my eyes to details I would've missed while traveling. Hostess bars, cultural mindsets, and struggles of a socioeconomic group that I never would've come into contact with as a tourist.

I definitely enjoyed the second half of the book over the first. Both halves of the book deal with interesting themes of motherhood and growing up, but the second half explores the complicated process of choosing single motherhood and in-vitro fertilization. The main character reminds me a bit of the protagonist in Convenience Store Woman, another popular book from Japan, because they're both a little different and decide to live their lives on their own terms, despite what society thinks. (Aside from that the books are very different, please don't compare these books further, they're both great in their own way!)

I look forward to reading more of Kawakami and hope more of her works are translated into English soon!
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I really had high hopes for this book. It has one of the best beginning for any book I’ve read. Natsu, the 35-year old single narrator compares poverty to windows. The poorer you are the smaller and fewer windows in your residence. She has always been poor. She and her sister grew up living with their mom and grandmother in a tiny apartment. Both parents died when the girls were in their teens. Sounds interesting right? How do older single women exist in a Japanese society where they are overlooked? Well, the story soon turned into Natsu remembering her childhood, her sister, who also is very poor, going on and on about breast augmentation, and her sister’s daughter on the cusp of puberty refusing to talk to either and spending most of her time writing about menstruation and eggs she has in her body. I soon lost interest. Or maybe that was the point? Unmarried women in Japan are uninteresting.
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An interesting novel with short stories that give readers impressions of life in Japan and relationships between Japanese friends and family.
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This novel entranced and absorbed me, and disturbed me, too. The story illustrates the corrosive effects of misogyny and poverty on the female body and spirit, and it's so intimately told, and so full of female happenings--the feeling of a sanitary napkin between one's legs, the feeling of dissatisfaction about one's breasts or nipples or skin or some other flaw, the surprise of menstrual blood on a day when it isn't expected--that I frequently had that lovely feeling that only great storytelling can give--that the author/narrator was presenting certain truths to me about being a woman that I'd never bothered to notice in my own life, or to give words to, before reading them here on the page. One small perfect, everyday observation after another is made, setting a scene and grounding the story in a gritty, practical reality--and then the narration suddenly will soar for a paragraph or two into a profound metaphysical observation, about life, or ambition, or fate, or the ravages of poverty, or the obligations of filial love. The characters in the novel are flawed and broken, but they forgive one another. They do their best. I enjoyed the first section for the way it affected me emotionally, and I enjoyed what followed for the ideas it gave me. Wonderful.
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Breasts and Eggs provide different insights on reproductive ethics. The writer put down the various thoughts that many people have, but too afraid to say them out loud into this book that really opens up what it means to be a mother.

The story centers around Natsuko, a single mid-30s writer who starts thinking about the possibility of having a child herself. As she struggles writing her second book, she started to look up artificial insemination options for a single woman. This led her into different conversations with family, friends, and new people that have some ties to the process. They all have different opinions about them and Natsuko listens to them equally. They form her thoughts as they bring different points of view.

I enjoy the book at an intellectual level where I was able to hear different opinions on something that most people have not put much thought about. Most people thought having a child is part of life. When they think about it, they think about more on the practical level, but not the philosophical aspect of what it means to reproduce. This book provides that. However, I don't find it as engaging at a personal level because there's a certain level of passivity that the main character has on these conversations. Most of them feel more like a monologue, rather than a dialogue. The dialogue happened with different conversations. I know why it was approached this way as the writer tries to show us what the opinions are without trying to influence the reader's final decision in our own opinion. However, I found the lack of resistance from the character frustrating as I want to continue the conversation with that particular person to see the reasoning behind their thoughts. 

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book and will recommend it to anyone that wants to hear more opinions about what it means to have a child as a woman.
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***Thanks to NetGalley, I was able to receive an ARC of this book.***

This was somewhat of a surprising read, in that it started out a bit slow and didn't necessarily change in pace, but somehow became more engaging as I got further along. The first part of the book delves into female bodies at various stages (puberty, middle age, etc.), poverty, and family. It was a little odd, but then the latter parts made more sense because the characters, and especially the narrator, were far more fleshed out. We reunite with the narrator in the future, where she is now a published author, and is now questioning whether she should pursue motherhood. She delves into the ethics of reproduction and this allows us to learn about it from a Japanese perspective. The intriguing style of this novel includes several portions that read like hallucinations. The inclusion of these chaotic times puts us into the head of Natsuko, and allows us to feel that turmoil as well.
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Since I really love Japanese literature I was super excited to dive in this book, plus it has a great review from Murakami, so a great plus for me.

The book is built of two sections, with the first exploring the relationship between two sisters Natsu and Makiko as well as Makiko's young daughter, Midoriko. This first section was published originally as a separate short novel. The second part focuses mostly on Natsu, about ten years later, and her search to have a family, or ,anyway, her own form of family.

I really liked the character development in the first part, especially Midoriko's. The struggle to fit in an adult world and to create a real communication bridge with her mother, and the way she processes any information related to her body.

The first part has a good pace, but it's slowing down as we move into the second part, as the focus is shifted solely on Natsu. The details of mundane Tokyo life, the geography of the places she moves between remind me to some degree of Murakami. Also, it's definitely an interesting approach to feminist topics, especially Natsu's exploration of her rights and her internal struggle to have a non-traditional family.

An interesting read that leaves me wanting for more from this author. While I would have liked to see maybe a bit more of Makiko and Midoriko in the second part, I still enjoyed it.
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This was everything I wanted MOTHERHOOD by Sheila Heti to be (and what it didn’t deliver on, for me), and it went that extra mile with some of the thematic exploration that I thought Miranda Popkey’s TOPICS OF CONVERSATION touched on. Essentially, this explores female identity in contemporary Japan - while motherhood is a central theme, and consumes most of the latter half of the novel, it also looks at body image and physicality and sexuality. I found my reading slow in the first part (the initial novella this was published as), and felt the narrative hit its stride in the second part (this expanded version now published) and I absolutely flew through the last third! I particularly loved the way these themes were explored in all their complexity - particularly the commentary around donor conception.
I hope more works by Kawakami are translated into English - this was bold and captivating and a breath of fresh air on the topic quite honestly! Many thanks to Europa Editions for sending an ebook my way.
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Breasts and Eggs is exemplary of why I love translated literature. Kawakami explores ideas that are cross-cultural and so fundamentally human but through a lens that is so very Japanese.

This book is about so many things, sex, marriage, parents, children, our bodies, and our relationships with all those things. The narrator and main character is Natsuko, a woman living alone in Tokyo and building a career as a writer. Most of the story is just in her day-to-day and about her relationships, predominantly with other women, like her sister and niece who still live in Osaka, her editor and her couple friends. This book is in the minutia, in the little thoughts and feelings and that's what I loved about it so much.

The highest possible compliment I can pay this book is that it really made me think, and made me think differently. Several parts gave me new perspectives on things we so naturally take for granted. I felt this most with one of the major themes of the book: parent-child relationships and why one would decide to have children. I still find myself thinking about it all the time. I think this will be a great one to revisit down the line.
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I was very excited to read this book because of the high praise for Meiko Kawakami received in Japan as well as the cover blurb by Hauruki Murakami. It is a story about two sisters.  Makiko has a quest for breast implants while the other sister Natsu, wants to have a baby by a sperm donor, hence the title Breast and Eggs. The book is divided into two parts. The first being the story about Makiko and her daughter Midoriko and the second is about Natsu. many topics are brought up in the book like social pressures, motherhood, men's treatment of women, and the issue of poverty. I found myself turning the pages excited to see what would happen next. The characters are not always likable but that is what makes the book great.  I really don't want to give to much of the plot away because it will take away the experienceof  when your reading a new author and all you want to do when you finish the book is see what else they have written and then go out and buy it. Mieko Kawakami is one of those authors. I hear Heaven is her next book to be published in the US sometime in the fall. Can't wait!
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The beauty of this novel is in the minutiae of Natsume’s everyday life in Japan. The writing is lush and real, but somehow covered in a slight haze like that of a late summer evening. While reading there is a sort of surreal transportation of the reader that evokes the feeling of hovering fly on the wall style over Natsu as she goes about her life. The internal dialog is fascinating. 

It is easy to see why Murakami is a big fan.
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Mieko Kawakami's Breast and Eggs is fun yet daring writing. She writes about family, adoption and artificial insemination, friendships, body insecurities, the egg cell, sex trafficking, food, and much more.

Kawakami allows the reader to see that though we may hope for things to be an absolute way, reality often rewrites the outcome. 

When Murakami stated that the book took his breath away, it is understandable. Some of the conversations between Natsuko and her sister Makiko and her ability to grab hold of the reader and place them in her dreamlike state was phenomenal.

The beauty of the book was her audacity to confront and write about women's issues and the ability to connect with her on many levels, especially her being somewhat mystifying, not knowing what was real and what was not.
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This ought to be a worthwhile read - a Japanese take on womanhood as seen by a pair of working-class sisters and a daughter. And aspects of the deadpan narration, occasionally absurd, are beguiling for a while. But gradually fatigue enters the picture, as the depictions of impoverished life, both in the present and the past, and the limited plot events become overwhelmed by monotony. This novel is far too long and rather obsessive. For the committed only.
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'We had no relatives to call for help, and zero chances of marrying into money. Less than zero. Lottery odds.'

Breasts and Eggs is about being oppressed through poverty but also it’s about the female body as an instrument for survival or a vessel for motherhood. It begins with Natsu’s older sister Makiko and her silent daughter Midoriko arriving by train for a visit. While silent in her mother’s presence for over half a year, her mind is a hive of anxiety about her changing body, but she doesn’t share these thoughts with her single mother; their communication solely through written words on paper. Nothing is wrong with her, she speaks perfectly normally at school and with friends, ‘she just refused to talk at home’. This is just another strain between Natsu and Makiko, especially after news that her elder sister wants to get breast implants, which will certainly improve her working life as a hostess. Spending her nights slaving in a less than glamorous location with ‘no shortage of vagrants and drunks’, women with bigger breasts make more money. While Midoriko ponders how awful it must be to menstruate for decades, her mother looks really old, and she isn’t even forty yet. Natsu is at odds with the way Makiko is behaving like everything is okay. As if her daughter’s self imposed silence is a rite of passage. She is more disturbed by Makiko’s obsessive plan to improve her body.

Soon, Makiko is sharing colorful brochures that are the guide “to be more beautiful”.  Hers is a life without prospects, there wasn’t anyone helping make her life better. The sisters past losses turned their lives to one of poverty and struggle. Survival in it’s rawest sense, and at a young age. Welfare, not an option. Before them, their own mother struggled. Even now, there isn’t enough money to stretch, let alone for breast implants! What about the health risks to her body? When they visit a bathhouse its a perfect example of women comparing themselves to others and how imperfections can be fixed. Natsu is helpless to make her sister see reason. For young Midoriko, the body is beginning to feel like a thing she has no control over, her future will just be a lifetime of bending to it’s demands, and seeing how making money every day just to keep it alive has drained her mother of youth and vitality makes her feel very afraid. Too, why would anyone want to create another life, just another body (like she herself is for her mom) that is more weight to your financial woes? She is horrified, feeling captive to her body’s changes, much like a runaway train she can’t stop or maybe like an approaching monster? Most women forget how scary leaving childhood behind is, when the body first begins to bud. It’s not always an easy progression, though a natural stage. Natsu herself is single in the most severe sense. No child, no partner and what does this lonely state say about her? With the visit from her family, memories are being brought out of the dark again about the sisters hard past. Natsu too thinks about the body and beauty, expectations, how to define happiness which seems much easier for those who please the eye. Worse, she sees her dream more as a hobby, herself as a failure having moved to Tokyo to become a writer ten years earlier and yet not a great success that can bring money in to help her elder sister and niece. It’s only a matter of time before Midoriko erupts emotionally about how her mother is effecting her and the strain between the sisters comes to a head.

In Book Two Natsu is found giving her everything in her writing, which to some doesn’t seem good enough. Through celebrity interest her luck changes and finally she tastes success. She finds support through an editor Sengawa, for a time who nudges her to reach deeper. She wisely informs her that it’s the real readers of literature she must reach. She wrestles with her own anxieties, the fact that in a relationship her body refuses to enjoy the physical fusing most people long for and don’t just ‘endure’. What sort of woman is she? To feel stunted in this way? A woman who retreats from such affection? She never feels more alone than when entwined with a man. What if she decides to have a child after-all, maybe better as a single mom, subtracting a man from the equation altogether?  It’s possible and a problem many single women face. There is always sperm donation. This quest brings her closer to children, now adults, born impacted by donor conception. Not everyone feels being born was a blessing. How will this effect her decision? This novel is a deep exploration into not just motherhood but the very nature of womanhood itself. For Midoriko when she is young in book one, her body feels like it’s gone rogue, for another character in book two, it stood out to me that with illness, it is the same. The body taking over. Choices are weighted in the entire story, there is no right or wrong path, and every decision they make effects someone. Parenthood and what a mother or father is reaches deeper than blood too through the novel. Natsu doesn’t feel normal, the way you should in relationships, but should she have to feel that way in order to create a family? Does she want to? As she ages, the question if she wants to remain alone is a heavy one.

There is so much happening in the novel, and it’s intelligently written but I sometimes wished the pace picked up. However, there is gorgeous writing within. “People are strange, Jun. They know nothing lasts forever, but still find time to laugh and cry and get upset, laboring over things and breaking things apart.”  One of the most beautiful moments in the novel is when Aizawa (you’ll meet him between the pages) talks about the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space probes. It moved me.

Women’s bodies are as complicated as our lives can be, every single stage from puberty to the end, and every decision we make from whom touches us to whether or not we carry a life within. There are illnesses, emotional obstacles, careers (some grand, others necessary for survival), and always memories of all that came before. How Kawakami fit so much in the telling, I can’t say. I lived in Okinawa, and I think I read books written by Japanese authors a little differently having a bit broader understanding of the culture than someone who has never visited or lived among the people yet I think anyone can relate to what happens to the characters. This is perfect for readers who enjoy other cultures, and women’s issues too.

Publication Date: April 17, 2020

Europa Editions
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Mieko Kawakami's hit novella Breasts and Eggs is receiving an English release as well as an expansion, continuing the story of Natsuko in her quest to become a mother.  The original novella - Part I in this release - explores the relationship of Natsuko, a childless woman in her 30s, her sister Makiko, who is seeking breast enhancement surgery, and Makiko's daughter Midoriko, who at 12 and going through puberty, is on the verge of womanhood and finds her mother's self-absorption disturbing.  Makiko and Midoriko visit Natsuko in Tokyo one hot summer, and the relationships among the three, as well as with themselves, is explored with humor and insight.  The descriptions of ordinary life in Tokyo - the restaurants and bars, the bath houses, the people - is what I found to be most interesting about this part of the novel.  Kawakami inserts plenty of pieces of Japan into her storytelling, and I enjoyed researching the foods and customs described in this novel.   

Part II of Breasts and Eggs is, unfortunately, not as engaging as the first.  Ten years later, Natsuko is still pining for a child, but does not have any viable way of becoming pregnant.  She is single and scared of sex, and Japan frowns upon women such as herself using artificial insemination to become pregnant.  Part II of this novel explores Natsuko's work and relationships as a writer, and follows her on her journey to potential motherhood ... if she could ever make the decision to go through with it, that is.  My problem with Part II of Breasts and Eggs is that it carries on for far too long.  While Part I of this book was pithy and compelling, Part II stays inside Natsuko's head for much of the book, while she ruminates over the same topics again and again.  There is much insight as to what it means to be a Japanese woman in this book; however, Parts I and II feel disjointed, not continuing the writing style from one part to the next, nor effectively connecting the lives of the characters we came to care so much about in Part I.  

Read this book if you have an interest in Japanese culture and the way of life for women there.   

Thank you to NetGalley and Europa Editions for an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
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Japanese authors such as Murakami fascinate me. Now I will add Mieko Kawakami to the list. 
Book started with a great pace slowed down towards the end, but had overall a good plot. 
Another keeper!
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I enjoyed the first half of this novel a lot. It reminded me a lot of Murakami, whom I love. Unfortunately I felt the second half drag on a little bit, I still liked the writing style a lot, but I felt like there was a bit too much detail about sperm donation. Overall I did like the book though, and I think some of my issues with it were personal, so I will still recommend it.
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