Friday, April 09, 2021

Convenience Store Woman - Sayaka Murata (Translated by: Ginny Tapley Takemori)


No one would ever claim that Keiko Furukura is normal — including Keiko herself. Keiko knows that’s not the case, but she studies “normal” people so intently that now she can mimic them well enough to fool most people into believing she fits right in to contemporary Japanese society. Only those closest to her, including her co-workers at the convenience store where she’s worked since she was eighteen (literally half her life), even have a clue as to whom she really is.


Keiko Furukura is, simply put, a Convenience Store Woman. She is, in fact, the perfect convenience store employee. She always comes in an hour early so that she can prepare herself for the day; she is a willing parrot of all the canned greetings that her manager requires her to give each customer who enters the store; she watches the shelves like a hawk to make sure that they are always in perfect order and that sales/promotional items get prime locations; she is willing to help out wherever the crisis of the moment pops up; she has the patience necessary to train the perpetual flow of new employees; she’s willing to work whatever shift, on whatever day, is best for the store; and she even purchases out-of-date and damaged food items for her own home meals. She is, without a doubt, the perfect employee…and everyone, including her own family, wonders why she is such a failure.


By the time a Japanese woman is as old as Keiko, she is expected to have a well-paying, full-time job or to be at home raising her children. She is not supposed still to be working “part-time” at the only job she’s ever had in her life. That is just not normal. Keiko grew up believing that she needed to be “cured” of whatever it was that made her different from everyone else. She just didn’t know exactly what that was. In the convenience store she learned, from training videos, which facial expression goes with each type of customer interaction, and she is happier there than she is anywhere else in the world. So…why can’t people just leave her alone?


One day, a young man, himself far from “normal” according to the mores of Japanese culture, explains his theory about society and how it treats people like them:


“This society hasn’t changed one bit. People who don’t fit into the village are expelled, men who don’t hunt, women who don’t give birth to children. For all the talk about modern society and individualism, anyone who doesn’t try to fit in can expect to be meddled with, coerced, and ultimately banished from the village.”


Bottom Line: The moral of Convenience Store Woman is: mind your own business. Keiko is perfectly suited to her work, she loves it, and it gives meaning to her life. Her manager, although he does not fully appreciate her, is very lucky to have her; the corporation is lucky to have her; her co-workers may be the luckiest of all to share the store floor with her; her parents and sister are lucky that she is theirs. And each and every one of them wonder what is wrong with her and how they can “cure” her. Keiko Furukura is an unforgettable character with an important message, and Sayaka Murata has packed a lot into this little book of only 163 numbered-pages.


Author Sayaka Murata

Translator Ginny Tapley Takemori


22 comments:

  1. Bravo Sam; glad you loved this one as well. I hope everyone who has missed it now reads it.

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    1. I really did, Diane. From one blog to the next, this one seems to be spreading faster than COVID-19, and that's a good thing for a change.

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    2. The author has another book out that sounds rather odd as well and maybe a bit darker -- "EARTHLINGS" - I placed a hold for it both on audio and print.

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    3. I noticed that title when looking for a picture of her translator. Seems that the same woman translated both books.

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  2. Just added this to my Need to Read list, Sam. Thanks!

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    1. Its' really well written, Cathy. I especially enjoyed some of her antics as a child...let's just say, she was (and still is) a very literal person.

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  3. I've been wanting to read this one- saw it on a few other blogs recently. Can I guess that Keiko is on the spectrum?

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    1. She is, although I don't remember it ever actually being said in the novel...may have missed a direct reference, though.

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  4. I'm so glad you read it, liked it, and wrote about it. I do want to read this. And I have a movie recommendation for you - Sweet Bean. I saw it on Netflix DVD, but I found that it is on Amazon Prime for $5.00.

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    1. I'm drawn to characters like her, Nan, and always feel as if I've learned something when I read their story. Thanks for the movie recommendation; I'll take a look. We recently canceled Netflix but still have Prime, Acorn, PBS, and other options, so I"ll go to Prime for that one.

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    2. I'm back to say thank you! I really enjoyed this book. I've never read anything remotely like it, ever. And my Kindle had some recommendations - one of those "if you liked this, you may like these" kinds of things, and the book that the movie Sweet Bean was based on - Sweet Bean Paste was recommended. It is on Kindle for $5.99 if you are interested. Thanks again for your post on this book!

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    3. So happy that you enjoyed the book so much, Nan. I'll take a look at the one you've recommended here for sure. Thanks.

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    4. I'll echo Nan's recommendation for Sweet Bean Paste... a solid 4-star read for me. As I was browsing Kanopy earlier today (thank you again!), I noticed the Sweet Bean movie and added it to my list.

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    5. Happy to hear about this one, JoAnne. And a movie...nice bonus. I'm going to do a library search for this one this morning. Thanks to both of you for the recommendation.

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  5. I've read such positive reviews of this one--glad you liked it as well, Sam!

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    1. It's a good book, Jen. I did feel like it was losing a little steam toward the end, but if being memorable is the mark of excellency, this novel is pretty close to being an excellent one.

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  6. Another book I now really want to read! I'd definitely be on Keiko's side all the way. :)

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    1. It's hard not to like this one, Lark. Keiko is quite a character in every sense of the word.

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  7. I recently listened to this book and absolutely loved it! Keiko is one of the most memorable characters I've come across in a long time.

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    1. I can imagine how great this would, in the right hands, be as an audiobook. The character would be even more "alive."

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  8. I had not even heard of this book until I saw it here in an earlier post. Since then I have seen in a couple of other reviews. I will have to try it out.

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    1. Do let me know what you think of it, Tracy, if you decide to read it. So far, it's been a hit with pretty much everyone.

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