Ms Ice Sandwich
by Mieko Kawakami
translated from Japanese by Louise Heal Kawai
I picked up this novella primarily because it’s Japanese and I am still excited about all things Japan. And the title is intriguing.
The story is narrated by a young man who, over his summer holiday, becomes slightly obsessed by the sandwich server at his local supermarket. She is aloof, never smiling, never engaging with customers, precise in all her movements. When he starts back at school, he hears rumours about his beloved “Ms Ice Sandwich” and they upset him.
“Ms Ice Sandwich’s eyelids are always painted with a thick layer of a kind of electric blue, exactly the same colour as those hard ice lollies that have been sitting in our freezer since last summer. There’s one more awesome thing about her – if you watch when she looks down, there’s a sharp dark line above her eyes, as if when she closed her eyes, someone started to draw on two extra eyes with a felt-tip pen but stopped halfway. It’s the coolest thing.”
For such a short book, these are not the only interesting characters. The narrator has a Mum he can’t relate to and a Grandma he loves but who is too sick to talk back when he pours out his heart to her. Then there’s his classmate Tutti, who clearly has a crush on him but is willing to settle for friendship while our main character figures out his feelings for Ms Ice Sandwich.
It turned out that there was not a particular Japanese slant to the book – this is a universal story. It’s a sweet tale of adolescence, discovery and loss.
Misu Aisu Sandoicchi published 2013 in the journal Shincho.
This translation published 2017 by Pushkin Press.
Source: Mr B’s Reading Emporium, Bath.