cover image All the Lovers in the Night

All the Lovers in the Night

Mieko Kawakami, trans. from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd. Europa, $28

Kawakami (Heaven) returns with a sensational story of loneliness and friendship. Fuyuko Irie, 34, is an asocial freelance proofreader in Tokyo with a repressed libido, self-described as possessing the “self-absorption of a single woman who [does] nothing with her life but work.” Friendships elude her except when they’re related to her professional life, particularly her outspoken and free-thinking editor, Hijiri Ishikawa. In Fuyuko’s free time, she wanders aimlessly in the Shinjuku shopping district and binges on sake. Then, at a culture center, she meets Mitsutsuka, a considerably older high school physics teacher, who introduces her to Chopin’s soothing, transcendent “Berceuse” lullaby. They bond over theoretical discussions of quarks, string theory, and the physical and philosophical nature of the “mysteries of light” until Mitsutsuka reveals a disheartening truth about himself. The author dazzles with her exploration of emotions and intertwining of lofty discussions of metaphysics with descriptions of Fuyuko’s routines, making her an extraordinary character who moves effortlessly between different worlds as she struggles to find herself. Kawakami turns this study of a “dictionary definition of a miserable person,” as Fuyuko calls herself, into an invigorating and empowering portrait. It’s a winner. (May)