(Book Review) ‘The Little House’ by Kyoko Nakajima / 「小さいおうち」中島京子

by Miki
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How should history be remembered? How much do you know about ordinary people’s lives during wartime?


‘The Little House’ is a fiction novel set during the 1930-40s in Japan, taking the reader through the period of World War II, and written from the point of view of an elderly woman called ‘Taki.’ In the style of a memoir, the story starts when Taki was a young girl, going to the city of Tokyo to become a maid. The novel gradually, slowly starts showing glimpses of change in the lives of ordinary citizens due to the start of the War. Beginning with subtle changes and progressing through to bigger ones, the book depicts how citizens perceived this critical time in Japanese history, as seen through both Taki’s life and the people surrounding her.


What makes this book significant compared to other Japanese books about the wartime period is that it really makes an effort to capture the ‘feeling’ and perceptions of ordinary citizens. By not merely focusing on the political side of the war, it aims to genuinely tell a story of the ‘people’ in Japan, instead of key battlefields or political figures. As this overriding theme implies, the book does contain some sad elements – however, the overall tone leans more toward the heartwarming and humorous. Taki’s rather cute personality never ceases to make the reader smile. Small details of everyday life and Japanese culture are documented beautifully through Taki’s daily chores and human relationships. In particular, the relationship between Taki and her Mistress went a long way to making the book both entertaining and comforting!


This novel made me question intensely how war memory should be both told and remembered. The narrative this book conveys was very different from what I learned from history textbooks at school; however, it was great to be able to add a variety of alternate historical perspectives to be read and understood as part of the wider picture, especially ones like this which are more focused on the viewpoint of ordinary citizens. In this respect, Taki’s narrative will surely help you understand more about Japan and this crucial point in its history.


‘The Little House’ won the Naoki Prize in 2010, and was made into a film in 2014.


Darf Publishers (Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori )

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