Katie Kitamura Translates the Untranslatable


Reading can also be a deeply interpretive act, and a novel like this offers the reader a lot to work on, raising a chorus of harmonious questions rather than squealing a single answer. Contemporary American novels present pre-resolved moral dilemmas and obvious enemies that serve our cultural craving for ethical excellence—the right word, right conduct, unique and rightful position on countless complex issues.

Kitamura works outside of this fashionable literality, knowing that the apparent plot of a story does not set its conceptual boundaries, as the best writers do; The plot summary wouldn’t do this book justice. While the words “sentimental labor”, “feminism” and “colonialism” never come up, he still deals deeply with these big social issues while making subtle comments on everything from art to envy and gentrification.

Still – an ungenerous reader may spot the man’s object of love and assume that the story is about a lonely woman’s search for love, as the narrator is somewhat directionless and waits for the Dutchman to come home. It is true that “Intimacies”, like Kitamura’s previous and equally gripping “A Separation,” carefully examines the knowability of those we love, trust, and sleep alongside. Yet Kitamura explores these relationships not as an end in themselves but as a lens for larger points. As this book says, the way a life cuts through the world is of the greatest importance in its impact on others.

“The interpretation can be extremely confusing,” the narrator thinks, “while trying to ensure the highest fidelity to the words spoken first by the subject and then by yourself, you may be so caught up in the details of the action that you do not necessarily grasp the meanings of the sentences themselves: “You literally don’t know what you’re saying. Language loses its meaning.”

This disorientation may sound familiar: At a time when so much intimacy is being forced or shut down by quarantine, this novel is on point. The breath itself, that intimate air, has united our worlds in death and fear. Even global events – a pandemic, a protest, a war – emerge first in the delicate space between people.

The sinister man on trial is “small and empty, but he understands the depths of human behavior. Where ordinary people don’t go. This gives him great strength even when he is confined to the cell.” Kitamura’s work also includes a keen understanding of human behavior that goes far beyond the pages of this short and remarkable book; He travels where ordinary writers can’t.


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