breasts and eggs–revisiting the purpose

Mieko Kawakami’s Breasts and Eggs is a thick book, 400+ pages. After a long time without reading such a big chunk, this journey took me months, walking with the heroine through a tedious time, when she delves into the real purpose of having a child.

The book was divided into two parts. Book One is composed of a tangled family feeling among the heroine Natsuko, her older sister Makiko and her twelve years old daughter Madoriko. Natsuko narrates her life in the first person, and among them, Madoriko’s diary entries are also interspersed in between. From a child’s perspective, adults’ world seem harsh and incomprehensible, and the question of “why was I born” encountered a nearly philosophical pondering, putting those banal answers from adults obsolete. There are a lot of conflicts in Book One between mother and daughter. Those conflicts brought the heroine Natsuko into the centre of questioning herself as a woman of childbearing age — why having children? Book Two opened a wide portray of the modern Japan society, especially in terms of sperm donations and choices when it comes to pregnancy.

Mieko Kawakami showed readers a long lasting struggle the heroine has when pondering about whether to have a child of her own. In the beginning of the book, the heroine’s answer to why having a child is “to get to know the child”, and later she sank in silence when hearing her friend’s opinion about how “violence” it is to have a child —

"Why do people see no hard in having children? They do it with smiles on their faces, as if it's not an act of violence. You force this other being into the world, this other being that never asked to be born. You do this absurd thing because that's what you want for yourself, and that doesn't make any sense."

Breasts and Eggs
Mieko Kawakami

There are a lot of pure concerning from the child’s perspective, where in the Book One, a child’s desire has been enlarged, making it more obvious for readers to see how child’s desire has been ignored by parents or other adults; how child’s numerous questions landed with no answers or simply a white-washed lie. Therefore, when in Book Two Mieko Kawakami comes back to the consideration of having a child, she delved into the most philosophical part — the child’s desire has never been considered from the very beginning, it’s a paradox, because it is not possible to even ask for a child’s opinion whether he or she would like to be born.

"Parents want to hear their kids say 'I'm happy I was born', to hear their beliefs reinforced. "

Breasts and Eggs
Mieko Kawakami

— then give the child a reason to say so.

Modern Japanese society unfolds in front of readers’ eyes, with a very delicate touch of the roles that women play. Women are considering having children without getting married, without a man living together, even without an active father, rather a sperm donor is enough. Somehow the below vision felt so close and clear —

"There will come a time when women stop having babies. Or, I don't know, we'll reach a point where the whole process can be separated from women's bodies, and we can look back at this time, when women and men tried to live together and raise families, as some unfortunate episode in human history."

Breasts and Eggs
Mieko Kawakami

Perhaps, the above quote is one of my favourites throughout the entire book.

Despite of its pondering on the child birth and parenthood issues, the book never mentioned surrogacy. When the book enlarged the question of “why are we having children?” as well as what are the ways for women to have children, surrogacy could be perceived as a step back (except for very special circumstances), before the whole giving birth process being really separated from women’s body. The discussion about surrogacy has never stopped, and the book didn’t mention it, which is a pity, given the fact that the in-depth thoughts and ideas behind this book is revolutionary, and women as surrogacy should be freed as well. I’d love to hear what part surrogacy plays in Breasts and Eggs, if there is one.