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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Ms Ice Sandwich

Kawakami Mieko

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To purchase Ms Ice Sandwich

Title: Ms Ice Sandwich
Author: Kawakami Mieko
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 92 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Ms Ice Sandwich - US
Ms Ice Sandwich - UK
Ms Ice Sandwich - Canada
  • Japanese title: ミス・アイスサンドイッチ
  • Published together with another story as the novel: あこがれ (2014)
  • Translated by Louise Heal Kawai

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Our Assessment:

B+ : charming, thoughtful childhood-tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 15/12/2017 Ian Shine
The Japan Times . 31/3/2018 Iain Maloney
Sunday Herald . 17/12/2017 Alastair Mabbott
World Lit. Today . 5-6/2018 Erik R. Lofgren

  From the Reviews:
  • "Beneath the cutesy prose style, Kawakami’s themes are first love, loss and learning to move on. A book that ultimately lives longer in the memory than the hour or so it takes to read. " - Ian Shine, Financial Times

  • "In Louise Heal Kawai’s translation, the novella is a wonderful example of the power of narrative voice. An innocent stream-of-consciousness draws the reader into the boy’s world and we learn far more about him from grammatical idiosyncrasies and looping vocabulary choices than from the morsels of detail we are fed." - Iain Maloney, The Japan Times

  • "It’s a warm and appealing story, and Kawakami’s guileless prose captures the tone of a thoughtful, innocent boy lacking social confidence." - Alastair Mabbott, Sunday Herald

  • "(A) delightful novella (.....) Kawakami’s dialogue, fluidly rendered into English by Louise Heal Kawai, captures beautifully and with great humor the eager dynamism of a child’s mind, guided by chance association and whimsy, as the fourth-grade narrator tugs the reader into his world." - Erik R. Lofgren, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The narrator of Ms Ice Sandwich is a boy in fourth grade, living with his mother and paternal grandmother; his father died when he was four years old. Grandma has been bedridden for the last two years, apparently after a stroke, and largely unable to talk or react, but the boy still likes to spend time with her:

Grandma mostly just lies there silently listening, but sometimes it's like she smiles or nods. And this makes me happy, so I talk to Grandma about all kinds of things.
       A recent new obsession of his is a lady selling sandwiches at the large local supermarket. He doesn't even particularly like sandwiches, but, as often as he can, goes to buy one from the woman whose eyelids are: "painted with a thick layer of a kind of electric blue" and who he thinks of as 'Ms Ice Sandwich'. The first time he saw her, he actually said out loud: "Look at those eyes !", and he couldn't understand why his mother said it was impolite to blurt things like that out, because the woman's eyes really were so amazing.
       The connection to Ms Ice Sandwich remains entirely professional -- she "isn't friendly at all", he admits, but he's completely satisfied with the simple transactional encounters. All summer, every day:
I go to the supermarket again, and just like before I stare at Ms Ice Sandwich's awesome eyes, which gives me a brand-new, really happy feeling. I do the same thing every day and that's how I end up spending the whole summer filling myself with Ms Ice Sandwich's eyes (and my stomach with her sandwiches).
       The boy is close to his mother, but there's a disconnect there; they're different people, and they somehow don't have that much to say to each other.
       There's a classmate who lives nearby, Tutti, and he describes a variety of encounters with her; she, too, is very different from him, but they find -- on and off, in the fourth-grade way -- a sort of connection, too, and repeatedly turn to one another.
       The boy is sensitive -- worrying, for example:
People always forget about these little things, but I believe that each one stays somewhere deep in everyone's heart, and without noticing it they grow and harden, until one day they cause something terrible to happen.
       A confrontation he witnesses at the supermarket and then some nasty comments he overhears some kids at school make upset the boy's delicately balanced world, and he retreats from his sandwich routine. Something holds him back from returning -- even as his preöccupation remains, as he does immerse himself in trying to capture Ms Ice Sandwich in a picture, spending a great time on getting it just right. Prodded by Tutti, he eventually does reach out and manages to briefly but satisfyingly resolve his obsession with Ms Ice Sandwich.
       Ms Ice Sandwich is a story of loss and connections. The narrator is still childish in his understanding of the world, yet Kawakami effectively presents his fumbling trying to make sense of it. He struggles to communicate with others, even those he is closest to: Mum lives in a different world, Grandma can barely react, Tutti is like an alien creature, and he barely dares do anything other than ask for a sandwich from Ms Ice Sandwich, but he tries -- struggles, in a pro-active sense -- to understand each of these relationships, and his feelings about them.
       Tutti also lost a parent -- her mother -- and it's also a loss that is palpable even as it remains unmentioned: "we've never talked about it, but somehow everyone in the class knows that her mother died". It also positions her better to understand what the boy is facing -- including prodding him to face Ms Ice Sandwich, which is, in fact a prodding to do much more, as, unspoken, they also both understand that the boy is preparing for another loss (and, indeed, all the losses that accumulate in a lifetime).
       Sweetly melancholy, Ms Ice Sandwich utilizes memory and a sort of nostalgia particularly well, and the short story is very effectively constructed. Among much else, the absent father-figure is just the right sort of faded presence, and connections to a past he still inhabited -- including with a book and story the boy recalls -- nicely utilized to sustain that presence (even allowing the mother to redeem herself a bit by the end). The relationship with Tutti, mystifying to the boy in the way that early encounters with the other sex with all their mixed feelings of affection and incomprehension can be, is beautifully handled, with scenes such as the boy being invited over for movie-night -- and being baffled by her enthusiasm for the movie Heat, yet still trying to connect with her experience.
       A short work, Ms Ice Sandwich is a rich childhood tale that effectively uses its very young narrator and his fumbling for understanding (in a voice that is both winning and convincing), making for a charming and resonant tale.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 December 2017

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Ms Ice Sandwich: Reviews: Kawakami Mieko: Other books by Kawakami Mieko under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Kawakami Mieko (川上未映子) was born in 1976.

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© 2017-2022 the complete review

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