Book Reviews and Highlights

Intimacies

Katie Kitamura

  • Fiction
  • Literary
  • Psychological
  • Women
  • It is never easy to move to a new country, but in truth I was happy to be away from New York.
  • Chapter 1 | Page: 1
  • I had lived with my slow- moving grief for so long that I had ceased to notice it, or recognize how it blunted my feeling. But now it began to lift. A space opened up.
  • Chapter 1 | Page: 2
  • She entered my life at a moment when I was more than usually susceptible to the promise of intimacy.
  • Chapter 1 | Page: 3
  • I watched as she opened the cabinet and took out a bottle of olive oil, a pepper grinder, I noticed that everything already had its place. I felt a throb— not of envy, perhaps of admiration, although the two are not unrelated.
  • Chapter 1 | Page: 4
  • Outside, the sound of doors slamming and the low rumble of an engine. There are police here all the time, she said as she reached for her glass of wine. There have been a couple muggings, there was a shooting last year. I don’t feel unsafe, she added quickly.
  • Chapter 1 | Page: 6
  • She opened the front door and as I moved past she suddenly caught me by the arm. Be careful on your way to the tram, will you? I was surprised by the urgency in her voice, the grip of her fingers on my arm. She let go and took a step back.
  • Chapter 1 | Page: 7
  • I looked down and realized that the road was strewn with cigarette butts, this despite the fact that there were several well- placed public ashtrays on that stretch of street alone.
  • Chapter 2 | Page: 11
  • Meanwhile, their labor was necessitated by the heritage aesthetic of the city, not to mention the carelessness of a wealthy population that dropped its cigarette butts onto the pavement without a thought, when the designated receptacle was only a few feet away, I now saw that there were dozens of cigarette butts on the ground directly below the ashtrays. It was only an anecdote. But it was one example of how the city’s veneer of civility was constantly giving way, in places it was barely there at all.
  • Chapter 2 | Page: 11
  • But fluency was merely the foundation for any kind of interpretive work, which demanded extreme precision, and I often thought that it was my natural inclination toward the latter, rather than any linguistic aptitude, that made me a good interpreter.
  • Chapter 2 | Page: 13
  • The Court was run according to the suspension of disbelief: every person in the courtroom knew but also did not know that there was a great deal of artifice surrounding matters that were nonetheless predicated on authenticity.
  • Chapter 2 | Page: 14
  • Interpretation was a matter of great subtlety, a word with many contexts, for example it is often said that an actor interprets a role, or a musician a piece of music.
  • Chapter 2 | Page: 15
  • The fact that our daily activity hinged on the repeated description— description, elaboration, and delineation— of matters that were, outside, generally subject to euphemism and elision.
  • Chapter 2 | Page: 16
  • Of course, the accused are often in suits and in office chairs, but the difference lay in the fact that at the Court the accused were not mere criminals who had been dressed up for the occasion, but men who had long worn the mantle of authority conveyed by a suit or uniform, men who were accustomed to its power.
  • Chapter 2 | Page: 21
  • The Court was generally unable to bring the accused into custody without the cooperation of foreign governments or bodies, and its powers of arrest were fairly limited.
  • Chapter 2 | Page: 22
  • But it was not even this, Amina explained, it was the intimacy of the interpretation, she was interpreting for one man and one man alone, and when she spoke into the microphone, she was speaking to him.
  • Chapter 2 | Page: 22
  • After all, the Court concerned itself exclusively with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes.
  • Chapter 2 | Page: 22
  • She found herself on occasion struggling to control the tremor in her voice, she felt herself becoming entirely too emotional. But then, as quickly as the second day and for reasons she did not fully understand, a certain hardness overtook her, she discovered a new and acerbic tone, not exactly neutral, perhaps even reproachful.
  • Chapter 2 | Page: 23
  • He continued to stare at her, a grim expression of satisfaction settling into his handsome face, perhaps because he had succeeded in intimidating her, in causing her to falter.
  • Chapter 2 | Page: 24
  • The next time she was required to recite a litany of the horrific acts perpetrated by the accused, her voice took on a pleading tone, in response to which the accused gave a thin smile.
  • Chapter 2 | Page: 25
  • Although she knew there was nothing the man could do to her, she could not deny that she was afraid, he was a man who inspired fear, even while sitting immobile he radiated power.
  • Chapter 2 | Page: 25
  • My eyes followed a waiter as he weaved across the atrium carrying a tray of miniature grilled cheese sandwiches, pausing as party guests plucked up the carefully charred triangles.
  • Chapter 3 | Page: 31
  • I looked up at the man beside me, he had put a great deal of product in his hair, so that it stood up in rigid and glistening waves. He obviously wished to emphasize the plenitude of his tresses, at his age many men had already begun to lose some or all of their hair, but the effect was a little absurd, he looked not like a virile man in the prime of his life but rather like a juvenile and inexperienced teenaged boy who had not yet learned how to manage his appearance.
  • Chapter 3 | Page: 32
  • Below us, Adriaan was still speaking to the woman. She must have said something amusing because Adriaan laughed, his eyes still on her, even from a distance I could see that he was interested in this woman.
  • Chapter 3 | Page: 33
  • She put her hand out and introduced herself, her manner friendly and perhaps a little curious, as we spoke Adriaan casually placed his hand at the back of my neck. She moved away soon after, almost without leaving an impression, as Adriaan turned to me it seemed odd that I had been so threatened by this woman, someone clearly of minimal significance to him, and with whom he had only been making small talk.
  • Chapter 3 | Page: 34
  • He took my elbow and steered me toward one of the many covered balconies that lined the atrium.
  • Chapter 3 | Page: 35
  • I thought that was you slipping away with the young lady, the man said. Adriaan did not reply.
  • Chapter 3 | Page: 35
  • The man gave a wolfish grin. To my horror, he reached out and wrapped his arm around my waist. We’re the best of friends, he said.
  • Chapter 3 | Page: 36
  • The man’s touch was damp and somehow sticky, even through the layers of my clothing. It wasn’t the nature of his skin, whether or not his palms or fingers were perspiring, but rather the quality of his grip around my waist that gave this impression; it was like being embraced by a squid or an octopus, a cephalopod of some kind.
  • Chapter 3 | Page: 36
  • I don’t even know your name, I said to the man, I don’t think you introduced yourself, you said only that you were a friend of Adriaan’s. The man frowned, he had shoved his hands into his pockets when I moved away and now looked even more like a petulant teenager, like someone who had been caught in the act.
  • Chapter 3 | Page: 37
  • And this was at all hours of day and night, I assure you I didn’t enjoy the intimacy, it was sometimes rather annoying, I have my own share of personal troubles, as you know.
  • Chapter 3 | Page: 40
  • Everyone deserves fair legal representation, even the most depraved criminal, even someone who has performed unspeakable crimes, the kind of acts that defy the imagination, the mere description of which would make most of us cover our ears and turn away.
  • Chapter 3 | Page: 41
  • In fact Gaby was beautiful, more beautiful than I could imagine being, although there was a hint of arrogance in the set of her mouth, the frank gaze she gave to the camera.
  • Chapter 3 | Page: 43
  • He did not feel the complexity of those objects and their history, no matter where he was he never looked anything other than a man at home.
  • Chapter 4 | Page: 49
  • As I disembarked, I saw that there were a handful of demonstrators gathered outside, supporters of a former West African president currently on trial, in what was one of the higher profile cases at the Court.
  • Chapter 5 | Page: 56
  • The Court had succeeded in extraditing a well- known jihadist who stood accused of four counts of crimes against humanity and five counts of war crimes.
  • Chapter 5 | Page: 58
  • As we drove through the city in the direction of the dunes, he continued to watch me in the rearview mirror, as if speculating what function I served, perhaps I did not conform to his notion of how a lawyer, a judge, an official of the Court would appear.
  • Chapter 5 | Page: 62
  • I was dressed conservatively enough, in what is usually described as “business casual”— but I had been told that this was exactly how escorts dressed, the ones that were not walking the street, the ones who were under considerable pressure to be discreet, who had famous and powerful clients, the kind of men who might conceivably be held in the Detention Center.
  • Chapter 5 | Page: 63
  • We reached my apartment, I paid the driver, who waited until I had entered the building.
  • Chapter 5 | Page: 69
  • I wondered then what it was like to be a man, so often surrounded by such deliberate features, more vivid than actual nature.
  • Chapter 6 | Page: 74
  • I looked at Jana, and then again at Adriaan. I saw that some intimacy had been established between them. It wasn’t surprising, in fact it was something that I should have predicted from the outset, they were both personable and even seductive people.
  • Chapter 6 | Page: 74
  • For a moment, Jana and I both watched him serving the food. We were converted into women admiring a man’s competence, an absurd and appalling situation. He was only dishing out noodles and rice and chunks of meat onto our plates, and yet I also found myself watching him appreciatively, perhaps because of my awareness of Jana’s own admiration.
  • Chapter 6 | Page: 77
  • One of the lawyers cleared his throat and asked me to sit down. He poured a glass of water, as I reached for it I realized that I was flushed. I took a sip.
  • Chapter 9 | Page: 113
  • Beside me, the former president was perfectly still. I was close enough to observe the texture of his skin, the particularities of his features, I could smell the scent of the soap he must have used that morning.
  • Chapter 9 | Page: 115
  • Here, I spoke in murmurs and whispers, there was something underhanded about the communication. I quickly finished and was silent.
  • Chapter 9 | Page: 116
  • Your reaction helps us understand what the emotional effect of the evidence and the testimony is likely to be. To some extent we are too inured.
  • Chapter 9 | Page: 118
  • And I realized that for him I was pure instrument, someone without will or judgment, a consciousness- free zone into which he could escape, the only company he could now bear— that, that was the reason why he had requested my presence, that was the reason I was there.
  • Chapter 9 | Page: 121
  • What actually took place was that I remained in my seat, that I interpreted for the former president, that I remained there, in that room with those men, until they no longer wanted me.
  • Chapter 9 | Page: 121
  • The artifice of their poses was evident, but that did not detract from the intimacy of the paintings— in fact it was the very act of posing, the relationship that act implied, that created this sense of uncanny familiarity.
  • Chapter 10 | Page: 125
  • A man stood behind the young woman, leaning against the table in a pose that was casual and raffish, somehow off- putting, he seemed to infringe upon her personal space, although personal space was not a phrase that could have occurred to the young woman, another anachronism.
  • Chapter 10 | Page: 127
  • This was not a painting of temptation, but rather one of harassment and intimidation, a scene that could be taking place right now in nearly anyplace in the world.
  • Chapter 10 | Page: 129
  • As soon as he reached me he slowed to a walk, an expression of mild surprise on his face, as if he had happened upon me by chance and we had not just spent several hours together. Instinctively, I began walking a little faster. He kept pace beside me until I stopped and turned to face him, exasperated.
  • Chapter 10 | Page: 130
  • I was both deadened and amazed by the man’s audacity, his technique was remarkably repetitive, it was the same strategy every time, he capitalized on disorientation.
  • Chapter 10 | Page: 131
  • Over the course of those long hours in the booth, I sometimes had the unpleasant sensation that of all the people in the room below, of all the people in the city itself, the former president was the person I knew best.
  • Chapter 13 | Page: 176
  • As she spoke, I saw that I had misapprehended her character, what I had interpreted as nerves was instead the extremity of her focus, she had come here to perform a monumental task and it followed that she was a person of no small courage.
  • Chapter 13 | Page: 180
  • Her voice, as she read the oath of the Court and swore to speak the truth, was low and strong and supple and it sent a ripple through the room.
  • Chapter 13 | Page: 180
  • You’re Adriaan’s friend, she said. You’ve been looking after the apartment. Her voice was bright and a little hard, from which it was clear that friend was a euphemism, and that she understood well enough what I was.
  • Chapter 15 | Page: 201
  • I couldn’t help but feel that she occupied the space with quiet aggression, that this preparation of coffee was in some way performative, designed to remind me who the true owner of the apartment was.
  • Chapter 15 | Page: 201
  • You know, he continued after a pause, the first time I saw you I thought: I like this woman, because she is not truly from the West. But in the end, you are part of the institution that you serve.
  • Chapter 16 | Page: 211
  • You sit there, so smug. As if you are beyond reproach, he said. He turned to look at me, his face mere inches from mine. But you are no better than me. You think my morals are somehow different to those of you and your kind. And yet there is nothing that separates you from me.
  • Chapter 16 | Page: 212
  • I couldn’t return to the Court. I walked instead toward the sea, onto the dunes, I walked until I could see the water and the sound of the tide blocked out the road and the city and the Detention Center and the man inside.
  • Chapter 16 | Page: 213
  • From a moral perspective, the man was guilty; from a legal perspective, the man was likely innocent. That both those things were possible was of course understood. But it was another thing to see the case fail before us, to see the cracks begin to widen one by one. I saw uncertainty spread through the building, blooming like mold.
  • Chapter 16 | Page: 215
  • The former president had already released a statement denouncing the Court as a tool of Western imperialism and an ineffectual one at that, for obvious reasons he felt vindicated by the collapse of the case against him.
  • Chapter 16 | Page: 216
  • But I no longer believed that equanimity was either tenable or desirable. It corroded everything inside. I had never met a person with greater equanimity than the former president. But this applied to all of them— to the prosecution and the defense, to the judges and even the other interpreters. They were able to work. They had the right temperament for the job. But at what internal cost?
  • Chapter 16 | Page: 218
  • That night, I ventured out to get something to eat, walking to the closest Chinese restaurant. When I entered, the young woman at the register addressed me in Mandarin, her manner hopeful. Her face clouded over when I shook my head and from that point she treated me with greater disdain than seemed normal. I thought— I want to go home.
  • Chapter 16 | Page: 218
  • #last-sentence
  • I said yes.
  • Chapter 16 | Page: 225