Intimacies. Stepping away from the cauldron of grim political life in 2022

Lee Heidhues 7.14.2022

I need to step away from the cauldron of political life in San Francisco.  

Recalls of democratically elected “Progressives”;  District Attorney Chesa Boudin and three School Board members this year.  An upcoming ballot measure to take away hard fought car free spaces in San Francisco  

All of this negativity in so called Progressive San Francisco sends me scurrying for solace.  

Katie Kitamura’s novel is in a place so far removed from my current reality.

I am totally lost in the story which takes place in The Hague, Netherlands.  Reading the book also takes me back to my youth when I spent nearly a year living in Amsterdam.

It’s so nice to be able to dive into the pages of this story and momentarily forget about vicious San Francisco.

Excerpted from NPR 7.22.2021

The unnamed heroine of Intimacies, Katie Kitamura’s fascinating and mysterious new novel, observes that “none of us are able to see the world we are living in — the world, occupying as it does the contradiction between its banality … and its extremity.”

She’s a new interpreter at The Hague, responsible for the banal function of translating legal proceedings for extremely evil defendants: genocidal former heads of state.

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We know only that the narrator came to The Hague by way of New York, her father has just died after a long illness, and her mother has returned to Singapore. Even her age and ethnicity are murky and, strangely, rarely commented upon. Kitamura seems to intentionally test the boundaries of how little biographical information an author can reveal about a protagonist while still making the reader feel intimately connected to them.

Readers will get a sense of both the importance and the futility of the International Criminal Court. The narrator points out that the Court primarily prosecutes crimes against humanity in African nations, becoming an “ineffectual” instrument of “Western imperialism.”

Of the building that the Court is housed in, the narrator observes “the modern architecture still seemed incongruous, perhaps even lacking the authority I had expected.”

I couldn’t help but crave a more open, incautious narrator, someone who is more than, as the accused puts it, “part of the institution that [she] serve[s].” The novel effectively comments on the elusiveness of intimacy, but perhaps at the cost of the reader’s emotional connection to the narrator. How much of what is factually revealed helps one understand a situation — or a person — more intimately?

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Even the journalists covering the International Criminal Court “had merely fragments of the narrative and yet they would assemble those fragments into a story like any other story, a story with the appearance of unity.”

Kitamura’s novel has its own appearance of unity, but ultimately illustrates how one’s interpretations can fail to help them see the world in which they live.