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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Ms Ice Sandwich
by Mieko Kawakami
Age Range: 9-11
Despite the fact that Ms Ice Sandwich always appears aloof, never smiles and isn’t friendly at all, the lonely young narrator is totally in awe of her. Most electric of all are her eyelids that are painted with a thick layer of ice-blue. He nicknames her Ms Ice Sandwich and to him she is beautiful. Each day the narrator goes to the local supermarket where she works to buy an egg sandwich just so he can watch her in action as she skilfully and efficiently slips sandwiches into bags.
The chatty narration provides a snapshot of the narrator’s life – his father is dead, his mother is forever distracted with her fortune telling and his bedridden grandmother is silently dying. He appears to have no close friends from school and it is only his classmate, Tutti, no stranger to pain herself, who helps him to grow in confidence as their initially awkward friendship develops. When the narrator hears unkind gossip about Ms Ice Sandwich’s appearance his way of dealing with it is to draws her while talking to his grandmother who, although unable to speak, appears to convey her understanding through what looks like a smile or a nod.
Ms Ice Sandwich is Japanese author Mieko Kawakami’s first book to be published in English. The power of the narrator’s voice in this novella draws the reader effortlessly into the boy’s world. Her dialogue, translated into English by Louise Heal Kawai, flows effortlessly and captures the humour and lively young mind of the narrator. Veering between poignant and whimsical it is a tale that explores the fragility of relationships, first love and growing up.