A delightful read that’s comforting and intriguing at the same time, THE NAKANO THRIFT SHOP by Hiromi Kawakami (2005) is about young love, working in retail and the curious characters we meet along the way.
I got all the feels from reading this book, because I am currently on indefinite leave from my bookshop job (thanks to coronavirus and my auto-immune kidney disease) and reading about life in the Nakano shop made me miss my lovely bookshop so much. 😭
Kawakami portrays the quiet joys of working in retail through the eyes of her protagonist, Hiromi, who is in her 20s and working in a shop that is a bit better than an op-shop, but not refined enough to be an antiques emporium. Her employer, Haruo Nakano and his sister, Masayo, are in their 40s and 50s respectively, and are charmingly eccentric. Working alongside Hitomi is the mysterious and gruff Takeo, and their flirtation is achingly relatable for anyone who has had a youthful crush, or an early relationship where much is felt but little is said.
I was reminded of several things while reading THE NAKANO THRIFT SHOP; its easy, gentle pace and strange, endearing characters made me feel like I was reading one of the the 44 SCOTLAND STREET books by Alexander McCall Smith, but set within a world that was as soothing (though a little grimier) as an episode of TERRACE HOUSE: BOYS AND GIRLS IN THE CITY. I also couldn’t help but reflect upon all the retail jobs I had in my 20s: the department stores, the bakery, the expensive handbags and accessories that I sold to label-obsessed girls and princesses and rich kids, and all the crushes I’d had on not-so-innocent boys along the way. And of course, I was reminded of the simple pleasures of working and going about one’s life in a pre-coronavirus world. And, I missed my bookshop.
THE NAKANO THRIFT SHOP is the last book I borrowed from the library. I went there with my son to return a bunch of books, and wondered aloud to him if we should borrow something. “You’d better, because the libraries will all be closed soon,” an old lady said from behind me. And it was true - the libraries closed 2 days later. 💔