Bingo: Travel. (This novel takes place in my home country, the Netherlands. I moved away 14 years ago and haven’t been back in four years – I miss it so much! It was interesting reading an outsider’s perspective of the Netherlands, though the country largely functions as a backdrop.)
An unnamed, young woman moves from New York to The Hague, after the death of her father. She has taken on a new job as interpreter at the International Court, where she has to translate for lawyers, witnesses, and people accused of war crimes.
I don’t quite know where to begin reviewing this novel. I picked it up because Molly Young over at Vulture recommended it, and she always finds gems that I otherwise wouldn’t come across. But while the writing is good and the story is enjoyable, ultimately I don’t think the book is going to have a lasting impression on me.
The writing is minimalist, which I generally don’t mind. However, it has gone too far into austerity for me, and I had trouble figuring out not only the character motivations, but also what the point of the novel is. I read through a couple of other reviews to try and figure this out, but those all feel like they are talking about a different book than the one I read.
It seems like Kitamura tried to tell a story about the many forms of intimacy, but didn’t actually say anything about it, though she used the word ‘intimacy’ a lot; so much, in fact, that it felt clumsy, especially for a writer who teaches creative writing. Though she tried to explore the many ways in which the protagonist experiences intimacy – within a relationship, as a translator – despite the obvious attempts to tie these together, they’re just loose, under-developed thoughts.
To be honest I felt bad writing this review, because I have little positive to say about the book. I think that may be on me, as the book is generally well-received, so I want to add that despite its shortcomings, the story is interesting, and Kitamura has a deft hand for power dynamics between characters. It just didn’t add up to anything meaningful for me.