Friday, November 17, 2023

Dairy Of A Void

Japan Book Review: Diary of a Void

Diary of a Void

by Emi Yagi

Penguin Random House UK (2022)

ISBN: 978-1-529-11481-2
213pp; paperback; translated by David Boyd and Lucy North

Dairy Of A Void by Emi Yagi.

Thirty-year-old Shibata is fed up at work. In addition to her regular duties at the paper core manufacturing company, she is expected to make the instant coffee for meetings, answer phone calls and change the toner cartridges etc. One day, after another pointless meeting which ended in her being expected to throw away the empty coffee cups with the cigarette butts still in them, she rebels. She tells her co-workers, "I'm pregnant, the smell of coffee, it triggers my morning sickness." "And that's how I became pregnant."

She's not any more pregnant than any of her male co-workers are, and in fact isn't married, doesn't have a boyfriend and, seemingly, hasn't had a date in years. Her ruse has some major benefits. She doesn't have to clean up anything anymore, she can go home at five o'clock and binge watch movies, people give up their seat to her on public transportation and some of her co-workers show newfound concern for her, especially Higashinakano, the guy in the desk next to her that she doesn't respect much.

Her ploy requires some planning, for example stuffing increasing amounts of material under her clothes to make her stomach bulge. She neglects to tell her parents, friends or anybody else what she is doing. As time goes on, she keeps track of her supposed pregnancy on a baby ap, eats healthier food "for the baby" and joins a prenatal aerobics class.

At this point, things veer away from the expected. Shibata (her given name is never revealed), goes to an obstetrician who tells her that her baby is doing well. She feels her baby kicking. Is she hallucinating or is she really pregnant? Who could the father possibly be?

One night, on a deserted Tokyo street, she has a talk with the Virgin Mary, with Shibata asking Mary about her hobbies and favorite singer and saying, "I'm sure you were totally freaked out when they told you that you were pregnant, but at least your baby's birth is celebrated all over the world."

The author, editor of a women's magazine, clearly leans left in her philosophy, managing to work in things like climate change, which is a bit of a non sequitur.

In an interview with the Japan Times, she stated, "I wanted to write a story showing that it's important for women not to feel like they are tied to certain roles, like office worker, wife and mother."

Shibata seems to hate not only working for "the man" but also working with men, although she says she learned in her job interview that she would be the only woman in the company.

There is not one male figure in the book she respects, seemingly including her father who she cares little about.

Overall, the book is a social commentary airing grievances at Japanese society, specifically its traditional work culture. It's quirky, original and, perhaps, thought provoking.

Review by Marshall Hughes.

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