Sunday, November 8, 2015

Study Guide: Kawakami Mieko “About Her and the Memories That Belong to Her”

Study Guide: Kawakami Mieko “About Her and the Memories That Belong to Her”

Original (“Kanojo to kanojo no kioku ni tsuite”): Published in MONKEY vol 2 (2014)
Translation: Hitomi Yoshio, Granta 132 (2015)

Mieko Kawakami (1976–) was born in Osaka. Her first break was as a singer, making her major-label debut in 2002 and going on to release three albums. Eventually she branched out into writing, first submitting poems to literary magazines and then earning an Akutagawa Prize nomination for the 2007 short story Watakushiritsu in hā, mata wa sekai (Myself and a Toothache), which was published in the prestigious Waseda bungaku journal. She won the Akutagawa the following year with her next work, the novella Chichi to ran (Breasts and Eggs). In 2010 Kawakami further established her writerly reputation by receiving the MEXT Award for New Artists and the Murasaki Shikibu Literary Prize for her first full-length novel, Hevun (Heaven), a story of love between two middle-school students bullied at school. She added to her honors in 2013 by winning the Takami Jun Prize for her poetry collection Mizugame (Water Jar), and the Tanizaki Jun’ichirō Prize for her short story collection Ai no yume toka (Dreams of Love). (Source: J-Lit: Books from Japan)

Kawakami Mieko Homepage:

Study Questions

1. Describe the narrator (i.e. her job, background, interests, status, personality, age, worldview, etc.).

2. How does the introduction, in which the narrator explains how human memory is “in the shape of a box,” relate to the main story? How are the memories that resurface—of her prepubescent lesbianic experiences with Kozue Kurosawa—like a box?

3. Why does the narrator return to her former hometown to attend a middle-school reunion? Is there any chance that she might be returning—albeit unconsciously—in order to find out what became of Kozue?

4. Describe the reunion setting. How does the narrator see herself vis-à-vis the town, her former classmates (e.g. the drunk tennis girl, the rowdy men), etc.?

5. Initially, how much of her middle-school days does the narrator remember? Explain.

6. Describe the girl in the ladies room. Was her main purpose in attending the reunion to inform the narrator of Kozue Kurosawa’s death? Explain.

7. Describe Kozue Kurozawa, her relation to/experiences with the narrator, and the circumstances of her death. Is the narrator in some way responsible for her death?

8. What effect does the news of Kozue’s death have on the narrator? As the memories of her sexual experiences with the girl resurface, does she feel guilty? Explain.

9. The narrator has returned to her former hometown—a place that should be familiar/homely/canny—but she is instead destabilized by the experience. Explain this process.

Further Discussion Question

1. Discuss the [Bergsonian] notion that memory is something external to the individual.
2. What is the past, what is it all for? A mental sandwich?

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