Riverhead. Jul. 2021. 240p. ISBN 9780399576164. $26.
Kitamura’s fourth novel, about a professional translator living in The Hague and dealing with personal and professional crises, makes for a tidy dyad with her previous book, A Separation. Both are deeply interior novels about women working their way through periods of displacement and reckoning with the fundamental mystery of ever truly knowing another person. Indeed, the titles of these two works could be fairly easily swapped, so similar are Kitamura’s preoccupations. Like A Separation, this novel is haunted by specters of violence and doubt, tension built from its cerebral narrator’s ruminations and observations. The action remains largely mundane by design, but Kitamura’s way with character often inflects even that with a sheen of dread. Indeed, in many ways Kitamura emulates the tenor of any number of best-selling thrillers—peripheral characters are suspect, motivations are occluded, etc.—but her spare prose and refusal to ever offer summary conclusions keeps things all the more mysterious. Various narrative threads are woven, but they never web into any settled understanding; the author’s tilt toward the existential peril of unknowing is fundamental to her sense of story.
VERDICT Few things are more intimate (and terrifying) than the act of being in the world, and Kitamura’s evocative interrogation of our ability to know ourselves and others is reinforced by the strength of her spare, haunting prose.
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