Hiromi Kawakami’s “People From my Neighborhood,” originally published in Japanese, received an English translation by Ted Goossen on Nov. 30.
Kawakami pieces together the surreal details of the nameless neighborhood and its inhabitants through thirty-six stories that, by the end, form a fantastical place of residence. A schoolgirl collects the brains of dolls; a woman described as having “the face of a demon” runs The Love, a restaurant by day and karaoke bar by night; a diplomat no one has witnessed fishes in a lake no one has heard of; a young girl has the power to manipulate people's memories; a Dr. Miranda claims people are hatched from eggs.
The strange events that take place in the neighborhood are described without much fanfare, as they have likely taken place there for years. In “Weightlessness,” the unnamed narrator describes how “For the first time in ages, we had a no-gravity alert.” The residents host the annual “The Hachirō Lottery” to decide who will board a mischievous boy, Hachirō, who can no longer live with his family.“The Six-Person Apartments” curse anyone who goes near it. A bad case of “Pigeonitis”—a disease that turns people into pigeons—runs rampant through the town.
The cast of recurring characters—Kanae, the narrator's grumpy friend, Kanae’s older sister, the Kawamata family, the old chicken farmer—develops an impression of a tight-knit community, as the focus of the collection is on the relationships between the residents. Despite disagreements that threaten to tear the neighborhood apart, like in “The Rivals”—two girls by the name of Yōko argue over who is the original Yōko across a span of many years—the neighborhood remains interconnected through its mysteries, folklore, and magical occurrences.
Because the stories are brief—about 2-4 pages long each—Kawakami doesn’t waste time explaining why things are the way they are. She presents them as normality, as if the reader should expect that this neighborhood would be full of seemingly magical happenings. Her blend of the unusual with the usual illustrates that this neighborhood is like no other.
Hiromi Kawakami creates a neighborhood that is as strange as it is appealing and one that I was sad to leave.
I would recommend “People From my Neighborhood” and give it 4 out of 5 stars.