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Convenience Store Woman

Review

Convenience Store Woman

written by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

I’ve written before about how grateful I am that more and more international literature is being made available in English translation in the American market, courtesy of both large and small publishers. Now more than ever, it’s important to be introduced to voices and viewpoints from around the world, which serves as a reminder of what makes us unique --- and what unites all of us.

CONVENIENCE STORE WOMAN by Sayaka Murata is not a thriller or a political novel or even a sprawling multigenerational saga. Instead, it’s a slim, spare and difficult-to-define little book, both very funny and achingly sad in turns, told from the point of view of a woman who’s trying to find her place in the world.

"...a touching exploration of loneliness and alienation, feelings and conditions that, for better or for worse, can be recognized by people worldwide."

Keiko Furukura is a convenience store worker. Since her very first job when she was still a teenager, she has worked part-time at the same convenience store for the past 19 years. Now in her mid-30s, Keiko has come to terms with the inevitable questions about why she doesn’t take a more respectable, professional job and why she doesn’t get married. To her co-workers at the convenience store (an ever-rotating cast of characters, none of whom have her longevity), Keiko says that she needs time to care for her aging parents. To her friends, she says that she has an infirmity that keeps her from taking a more demanding job (though she doesn’t have a good answer if they point out that she’s on her feet all day).

The truth is that Keiko has a secret. Since she was a young girl, it’s been clear that she doesn’t understand the rules that govern social behavior or human relationships. She’s continually gotten into trouble for misreading social cues or violating social norms. And the beauty of the convenience store is that it gives her a rigid, predictable structure to fall back on. She wears the standard uniform, repeats the same stock phrases, and follows the management’s directives to a T. She is succeeding at something (as much as it’s possible to be a success in a textbook dead-end job), so why would she ever run the risk of venturing into something new?

But when an outsider who seems similarly unmoored arrives at the convenience store, he has a proposal for Keiko --- one that could help both of them deflect the pitying glances and whispers of their friends and families. At first, Keiko is intrigued by Shiraha’s theories, but she quickly finds herself longing for the routine that meant everything to her --- even if it was inscrutable to everyone else.

Ginny Tapley Takemori’s translation from the original Japanese effectively conveys the awkwardness and unintentional humor in Keiko’s narrative voice. In addition, CONVENIENCE STORE WOMAN offers American readers a glimpse into a different culture. Japanese convenience stores, with their vast array of packaged foods, seasonal specials and prepared meals, are a far cry from most corner bodegas. But this empathetic novel is also a touching exploration of loneliness and alienation, feelings and conditions that, for better or for worse, can be recognized by people worldwide.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 22, 2018

Convenience Store Woman
written by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori

  • Publication Date: June 12, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • ISBN-10: 0802128254
  • ISBN-13: 9780802128256