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Published Date : April 10, 2012
Tsukiko, thirty-eight, works in an office and lives alone. One night, she happens to meet one of her former high school teachers, “Sensei” in a local bar. Tsukiko had only ever called him “Sensei” (“Teacher”). He is thirty years her senior, retired, and presumably a widower. Their relationship–traced by Kawakami’s gentle hints at the changing seasons–develops from a perfunctory acknowledgment of each other as they eat and drink alone at the bar, to an enjoyable sense of companionship, and finally into a deeply sentimental love affair.
As Tsukiko and Sensei grow to know and love one another, time’s passing comes across through the seasons and the food and beverages they consume together. From warm sake to chilled beer, from the buds on the trees to the blooming of the cherry blossoms, the reader is enveloped by a keen sense of pathos and both characters’ loneliness.
HIROMI KAWAKAMI is the author of God and Manazuru, which won the Japan Literature Foundation Award. She is the recipient of the Pascal Short Story Prize for New Writers and the Akutagawa Prize. Her stories and essays are widely published in Japan, where she taught biology and is now a member of the Science Fiction Research Association. She lives in Japan.
ALLISON MARKIN POWELL is a literary translator and editor in New York City. She has translated works by Osamu Dazai, Kaho Nakayama, and Motoyuki Shibata, and she was the guest editor for Words Without Borders’ Japan issue.
“I’m hooked on The Briefcase, a sentimental novel about the friendship, formed over late nights at a sake bar, between a Tokyo woman in her late thirties and her old high school teacher… I can only imagine what wizardry must have gone into Allison Markin Powell’s translation.” —Lorin Stein, The Paris Review Daily
“In quiet, nature-infused prose that stresses both characters’ solitude, Kawakami subtly captures the cyclic patterns of loneliness while weighing the definition of love.” —Booklist
“The Manazuru of Kawakami’s is a dream state as much as a place . . . Captivating and suspenseful.” —Booklist