PLOT: 3.5/5
CHARACTERS: 4.5/5
WRITING: 4.5/5
OVERALL: 4.5/5
GENRE: Fiction, Novella, Japanese Literature
THEMES: Coming of Age, Innocence of Youth, Love, Loss, Friendship

“The worst thing is, you never know when somebody’s going to just disappear.”

Meiko Kawakami, Ms Ice Sandwich

Japanese Literature is all the rage right now and I have been slowly and steadily catching up to this trend. This is my third Japanese fiction this year, after Heaven from the same author and Satoshi Yagisawa’s Days at the Morisaki Bookshop. 

I’ve already read Meiko Kawakami’s Breasts and Eggs, so it was no surprise that I would go back to other books by her. 

What is the book all about?

A Japanese novella, translated into English by Louise Heal Kawai, Ms Ice Sandwich is all about the innocence and the naivety of youth. It is about those carefree days of childhood that remain with you forever, the innocence of youth, the sometimes tense but sturdy ties of friendship and familial love, and that bursting-at-the-seems exhilaration of childhood crush.

The plot of Ms Ice Sandwich

Ms Ice Sandwich is the name she has been bestowed with. Our young narrator does not know her name, nor does he have any desire to know it. In his mind, this name suffices. He is smitten by her enormous eyes and her electric blue eyelids; a colour that she always puts on. 

He loves the way she moves her hands, quickly delivering the sandwiches that her customers queue up for. She is not a friendly person, not at all the chatty sort, and yet he is drawn to her, drawn to the supermarket every day, at least every day of the summer vacation. Just to see her work. Just to see her casual nonchalance.

But as his fascination with Ms Ice Sandwich seems to grow, life has a way of interfering. There is his best friend, Tutti who knows a thing or two about pain. There is his mother, who is looming yet distant, always working in her recently revamped parlour, predicting the fortune of her clients, and his sick and loving grandmother, who is slowly declining towards her end. 

Then there are also those rumours about Ms Ice Sandwich that seem to get on his nerves. 

But, what it is about her that gets people talking? He never seems to figure it out.

My review

The simplicity of the book and the story is what hooks you in. It doesn’t start with a bang but grows on you gradually. It’s a book that makes you a little sad and a little happy. There is loneliness and pain, but there is also love, friendship, bonding, and the little things that make life worth living.

The naivety of youth and the exhilaration of attraction (if you can call it that, the narrator seems to be every bit confused about it) makes for a heartwarming read. Just like Ms Ice Sandwich, our young narrator too is a bit socially awkward, never knowing what to say and how to behave. He doesn’t fit in, always managing to get by just okay.

The way this character is written seem like you have been transported to the days of your own youth. The naivety and innocence are so on point, so relatable, so authentic. 

There is a sort of dispassionate tone in the voice, and yet the story is strangely warm and tender. There is not much going on in terms of plot, but read it for the way it is narrated. 

Read it for those summer days that bring back memories of lost connections, mundane routines, and final goodbyes. The end, again, is both hopeful and heartbreaking for all different reasons. In the end, there is something to look forward to, yet there is something that is forever lost. I would certainly recommend it to fans of slow and heartful reads.

Can’t wait to read it? Buy Ms Ice Sandwich using the link below.