Katie Kitamura’s novel is to be savored for is clarity and humanity
Anonymity is antithetical to intimacy, is it not? To label something as anonymous is to proclaim not only mystery, but also distance, possible menace, and perhaps even tawdriness. An anonymous letter, an anonymous phon call, anonymous sex. Worrisome at best.
“Intimacies” reverses this dynamic and employs the anonymity of its protagonist — an interpreter in the international court in The Hague — to draw us closer. With few given clues to define her — no name, no age, no specific heritage, no resume — we must lean in to catch her whispers and decipher them as accurately as we can, just as she does as a neutral, but visible intermediary between the accused, the witnesses and the court. It is an intimate task, and a demanding one. Most of us prefer the obvious to that which must be gleaned.
Little in life is more complex, and therefore more baffling, than human emotion and motivation. What people do or don’t do is readily seen. Why they make that choice — whether it is to have an affair, to move to another country, or, more significantly, to massacre the innocent to empower the culpable — is a question often unanswered despite the best efforts of judges, journalists, shrinks, and novelists.
Kitamura doesn’t provide answers in “Intimacies,” but the clarity and elegance of her writing — refreshingly readable in its cleanliness — focuses the search, as does her capacity to linger in the moment and absorb whatever is there. The interpreter observes with the rapt wariness of a prey animal, freezing and fixing her eye on everyone she meets and on the city around here, looking for clues to the larger questions: Who are they? What do they want of me? How did I get here? Where am I going?
“Intimacies” tells a quiet story of a muted, untethered woman trying “to put things in their place, to draw a line from one thing to the next.” In the hands of a lesser writer, a story of such scant plot could easily devolve into the common tropes of self-discovery: the journey of the lonely wanderer through self-doubt and depression and their eventual arrival, by way of love and excavation of inner strength, at the Eden of fulfillment. Kitamura permits herself no such decline. She hews with…