Ms Ice Sandwich is an #OwnVoices Japanese novella that is part of the Pushkin Press Japanese Novellas line, which consists of novellas written by authors who have won the Akutagawa Literary Prize—which is one of Japan’s most sough-after prizes— at some point during their careers.
The novella revolves around a young adolescent boy who is smitten with the lady that sells sandwiches at the local convenience store. Due to the electric blue colour that paints her eye lids and her naturally cool and aloof persona, he named her Ms Ice Sandwich.
This was one strange little book, to say the least. Even though it only has 92-pages, there are tons of little motifs in it that make it surprisingly thought-provoking, all of which I found to be rather wonderful. Yet, combined with lazy translation and an awkward narrator, it definitely is not a story for every reader.
One of my favourite qualities about Ms Ice Sandwich was the subtle critique it makes on perception, particularly the narrow-mindedness of individual perception. You have a kid that is so focused on his own feelings for a more mature woman that he doesn’t really stop to think about the life that is moving forward around him. He doesn’t see how his mother is coping with complex, depressive emotions; nor the blossoming attraction that another person has for him; not even the fact that Ms Ice Sandwich is a person outside of his fantasies of her. I found it amusing because of how true it is in regard to human nature. We get so involved with our own shit that we rarely ever take the time to notice the shit that is happening around us, probably due in part of something we did/said/etc. in one way or another.
The story also creates moments of contemplation relating to how missed opportunities can become acrimonious life-long regrets; that life is inherently a fleeting bird all its own and if you don’t pay attention, it will flitter right on by without you (hey look, perception again); and the lessons in the bittersweet comfort of first crushes. It also very mildly teaches you to never judge something by mere superficial observation. A good example: just because someone appears to be cold-hearted on the surface, doesn’t mean that they aren’t actually compassionate and caring human beings.
“Thank you. You know,” she goes on, “I think you’re going to be an artist in the future.” She laughs happily.
This is the first time that I have ever seen Ms Ice Sandwich laugh like that.
While themes are grand and dandy, there were a couple of things that irked me. The first is the lazy translation, specifically the awkward and frustratingly inconsistent use of British English and American English. The spellings and, in most cases, the grammatical structure of these two languages, are quite different. Hell, even certain words have different meanings depending on which English you’re using and the context that they are used in. I felt like the author couldn’t decide which English to focus on, or maybe just pulled parts from each of the two and applied them where they believed it would work. But translation doesn’t work that way. I became so fed up with the mixed spellings of some words (i.e.: specialised and specialized, color and colour, etc.), the fluctuating usage of an Oxford comma, and a few other elements. It was all so damn inconsistent.
Now, I am capable of admitting that this could very well be a personal problem and not one that other readers will have or notice. But it did bother me, and I felt it was important to point it out. I also know that I have a tendency to mix my English spellings in my review or other blog posts occasionally, and a lot of that has to do with living in one country while being brought up to speak and spell using the language of another. However, in a professional setting such as book translations, I expect there to be consistency in the work! If I were a translator, I would work my ass off to ensure that everything is on par! To not do that much is unprofessional. Also, I feel these are basic things taught in elementary levels of reading and writing: how to spell. It is a conscious choice to spell a word using one form or another that is entirely separate from the actual translating part, as it is a conscious choice to keep using one form instead of switching between them throughout the narrative.
Moving along. The writing style is another thing that I didn’t care too much about. There is nothing particularly aggravating about it in terms of technique or prose. My main issue (more of a slight annoyance than issue, honestly) was how the narrator tended to go on rants that were unrelated to the main focus of the scene or scenario. He would just go on these tangents. More often than not those tangents would be tedious and tiring. It did help me visualise and understand his persona a bit more, which further helped me to comprehend his emotions and perspective. But it was still grating.
Translation issues and winded prattling aside, I enjoyed Ms Ice Sandwich for what it was: a simple narrative about a kid smitten with a lady he can’t have and how he came to grips with it. As I mentioned earlier, for less than a hundred pages, you get a lot of wonderful motifs to think about and that is something I love very much in my pure fiction books. I recommend it if you don’t mind teenage rants and unreliable use of the English languages.