Reviewed by Sara Boorman

Published by Picador June 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5290-7441-3 PB

This is a story about freedom and choice, or rather, the lack of it.
Breasts and Eggs is in two parts, the first is set some years before the second and it explores a very
short period in the lives of three women from a working class Japanese family. Natsuko the main
character here is a struggling novelist who lives in Tokyo but is originally from Osaka where her
sister Makiko and her daughter Midoriko still live. I loved part one as I really enjoyed reading about
the dynamic between the three women and found that the different ways that Makiko and Midoriko
were feeling about their respective bodies was enthralling. Even as mother and daughter they are
unable to explain these feelings to each other, in fact Midoriko has given up talking to her mother
altogether.
Part two is about Natsuko herself and is an intimate and reflective portrayal of her struggle with
herself both moral and physical. Though Makiko and the now grown up Midoriko still feature they
are now peripheral characters that seem distant like Osaka itself. Natsuko wants to have a child but
not having a partner and not being physically able to have sex puts her in a difficult situation
because as a single woman in Japan it is very hard for to find a reliable and safe way to get a sperm
donation.
When asked why she wants a child Natsuko responds ‘I want to meet them, my child’ which to one
character, Yuriko, who Natsuko meets during her quest for knowledge about sperm donation, is
beyond the pale. Yuriko, who had a dreadful childhood, feels is is always wrong and always a
selfish act to have a child and that ‘nobody should be doing this’. Natsuko also meets Aizawa who is
devastated after the father he lived with and loved all his life dies only to learn his real father was a
sperm donor who he will never meet or get to know. These are just two of the people who have an
input in to whether having a child completely on her own is the right thing for Natsuko to do.
Breasts and Eggs is beautifully written and it flows making is a pleasure to read. I especially liked
the atmospheres created like the oppressively hot Tokyo summer and the feelings in Natsuko’s
tortuous dreams.
One thing that is interesting to know is that Mieko Kawakami is famous in Japan for writing in the
Osaka dialect which is does not seem to come across in this translation. For instance ‘I’ve been
thinking about getting breast implants’ is probably more like ‘I’m thinking of getting me boobs done’
in the Japanese version of the book. Osakan is apparently something like Mancunian.