167. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

For many years I’ve been fascinated by Japanese Literature and culture. Although, many readers get their introduction to the whimsical and mind bending stories from Japan through Haruki Murakami, I believe Sayaka Murata should be on everyone’s list to read as well!

And if you (like me) don’t get Murakami then try Convenience Store Woman! You won’t be able to put it down.

This novel was a discovery through #bookstagram, and ever since I read the reviews, I knew I had to get it! However, I forgot that I wanted to read it, till an urge to read a story not set in the West, made me remember and download this little gem.

Convenience Store Women by Sayaka Murata is simple but unique, hilarious but sad, testing but wholesome.

If you’ve also been interested to learn about Japanese Culture, then this book will give you a modern look into their societal norms and pressures. The story is about a 36 year old Keiko who works at a convenience store, and has been there for more than 16 years now.

Although, it is a part time job, and people in Japan usually work in convenience stores while looking for a more permanent gig, but for Keiko she lives and breathes this convenience store job. She has always been a unique child, considered “not normal” not because of any physical deformity but because she doesn’t vibe with social norms we consider implicit.

“I absorb the world around me, and that’s changing all the time. Just as all the water that was in my body last time we met has now been replaced with new water, the things that make up me have changed too.”

 For example, once a bird died in a park, and all the kids started crying however, Keiko picked the bird up and brought it to her mom saying let’s cook it, as dad likes to eat birds. Suffice to say, she was told many things that day as to how insensitive, callous, and immoral that action was. But in her eyes, Keiko did nothing wrong, because her dad liked to eat that kind of bird.

“For all we talk about modern society and individualism, anyone who doesn’t try to fit in can expect to be meddled with, coerced, and ultimately banished from the village.”

Over the years, she is taken to many doctors to cure her, and make her “normal” which led her sister and mother to tell her how to behave. That is how Keiko has survived all these years, and why she has stuck to the convenience store. But now at 36, her friends and family put out the pressure for her to get married.

“People who are considered normal enjoy putting those who aren’t on trial, you know.”

This leads her to form an unlikely arrangement with a guy who wants to do nothing in life but assumes he has the potential to be amazing. By the time you’ll be done with Convenience Store Woman you’ll be left with a few giggles here, a few sighs there and a lot of inner debates about what constitutes normal?

“From where I stood there were two types of prejudiced people – those who had a deep-rooted urge for prejudice and those who unthinkingly repeated a barrage of slurs they’d heard somewhere”

The character of Keiko is a unique one. You don’t come across many main characters like her in stories. People have compared Convenience Store Woman to Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, but both are starkly different. Sure the characters are outliers, outcast or indifferent when it comes to bowing down to social pressures and norms. However, the objective of both these stories couldn’t be more different.

“It is the start of another day, the time when the world wakes up and the cogs of society begin to move. I am one of those cogs going round and round. I have become a functioning part of the world rotating in the time of day called morning.”

I loved Convenience Store Woman for the way Keiko was unapologetically enthusiastic about a job that many would think is a dead end. She is such an honest, loyal, and passionate employee, she should be getting the “employee of the month” award every month, all year round! Most importantly, I had to question my own ideas of what is normal and acceptable in our society when confronted with Keiko’s atypical thoughts.

“When I open the door the brightly lit box awaits me – a dependable normal world that keeps turning. I have faith in the world inside the light filled box.”

But the most coolest part about this book was how the author managed to carve out beauty in the mundane, and the sensational in something as ordinary as a convenience store in Japan. You may not know this but convenience store(also called Konbini in Japanese) are a huge part of the daily lives of Japanese people. You not only find ready to eat items, but can pay bills, buy clothes, toiletries, lottery tickets, hot food, shoes and lots more.

“Now, however, it felt like he’d downgraded me from store worker to female of the human species.”

And one of the main reasons why I want to go to Japan is to see a 7/11 convenience store myself, along with Sakura, Japanese street style and lots more. Either way, if you’re tired of reading the same old stories, with heartbreak, sadness or general gloom, pick up Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginni Tapley Takemori and witness one of the coolest yet simplistic story you’ll come across in a while.

Onto the basics:

  1. Rating: 5.0/5.0
  2. Favourite Quote: “The normal world has no room for exceptions and always quietly eliminates foreign objects. Anyone who is lacking is disposed of. So that’s why I need to be cured. Unless I’m cured, normal people will expurgate me”.
  3. Reader level: fairly easy to read.
  4. Should you read it: if you’re interested in Japanese Lit or women centred stories, then yes! You definitely should give this a go!
  5. Would I read it again: I would! I really wanna read it again soon!

Till next time,

-Sarah

 

 

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