Book Review: Breasts and Eggs

Cover for Mieko Kawakami's Novel Breasts and Eggs

Between you and me (and any other internet minions) I’m a little surprised BREASTS AND EGGS was such a successful book–or is it books? (Book 1 = Breasts, Book 2 = Eggs?) The first book (I guess we’ll just call it that) was really a standalone novella, and it clips along as a thoroughly enjoyable tale. The story is about thirty-year-old Natsuko, our wannabe writer, who grew up desperately poor in Osaka. Her sister and her sister’s only daughter are coming for a visit on a hot summer day. The daughter, Midoriko, is on-the-cusp of puberty and troubled by her mother’s obsessive quest for boob job. (I mean, who wouldn’t be, right?)

The second book (written 10 or so years later and also set about 10 years later) is more centered around Natsuko. She’s published a novel, but her career hasn’t really launched. She’s having a hard time writing a second book. Her life has stagnated and she wants a child. This book is more about ideas–what does it mean to be a woman who wants children in a modern area of artificial donors and singledom? Does she need a man to have a healthy, happy child? Can a woman be a great writer and a mother?

In this second book, the characters act almost as allegories–and the pace slows, but I enjoyed the discussion of ideas. One memorable character in particular, Onda, struck me as a representation of just how disgusting our traditional notions of masculinity and sex really are. It was quite cleverly depicted, if I do say so myself.

Any woman who has ever debated whether they truly want children–especially women who want to be artists–will find something of themselves in this second book. It also didn’t hurt my interest that this is a story about a female writer, who isn’t that successful in life, who loves her quiet world, and who brings her own unique fingerprint to art and relationships. Natsuko is a somewhat passive character–her friends Rie, Rika and Sengawa are more recognizable to me in terms of thinking and acting, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy her take on the world.

But my favorite quote comes from Rika, which I think sums up the second book’s theme well: “… trust me,” Rika said, laughing too. “There will come a time when women stop having babies. Or, I don’t know, we’ll reach a point where the whole process can be separated from women’s bodies, and we can look back at this time, when women and men tried to live together and raise families, as some unfortunate episode in human history.”

For Aldous Huxley in BRAVE NEW WORLD, these sort of ideas were the stuff of nightmares. Babies in vats, cooked up to order. But as Kawakami writes, men are “on a pedestal from the second they’re born, only they don’t realize it.” Making women completely independent from men in terms of reproduction could make women more free.

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