The author of A Separation returns with a novel about a translator who finds work at The Hague's International Criminal Court. A New York transplant who speaks many languages and holds identities, she's pulled into an explosive political controversy when she's asked to interpret for a former president accused of war crimes—all while confronting her own personal battles with love and power.
...intense, unsettling ... Intimacies is very much a story that seems to be something familiar but soon morphs into something disorientingly strange ... The incongruity between [the narrator's] domestic life and professional life is what makes Intimacies so fascinating ... Through parts of this story, Kitamura is exploring impossibly remote territory ... Her narrator’s experiences in the translation box raise some of the same questions as Edna O’Brien’s novel The Little Red Chairs ... But with her Jamesian attention to the slightest movement of bodies and words, Kitamura keeps Intimacies rooted to the ordinary domestic experiences of her narrator, her petty jealousies, her passing suspicions. The effect is a kind of emotional intensity that’s gripping because it feels increasingly unsustainable.
Kitamura’s prose elegantly breaks grammatical convention: Commas hitch complete thoughts together, quotation marks are eschewed and ancillary characters often interrupt the narration midsentence, without punctuation. This style mirrors the book’s concern with the bleeding lines between intimacies — especially between the sincere and the coercive — while Kitamura’s immense talent smooths the seams. Even in complex court scenes when the voices of interpreters, witnesses, lawyers and judges commingle, nothing is lost in her sleek and satisfying syntax ... 'Intimate', 'intimacy' and 'intimacies' appear repeatedly in the prose, almost annoyingly so, yet synonyms are inadequate; intimacy is the structuring principle of “Intimacies” and no other word quite captures her meaning ... Reading, too, can be a deeply interpretive act, and a novel like this one offers the reader much to work with, raising a chorus of harmonic questions rather than squealing a single answer. Contemporary American novels too often deliver pre-solved moral quandaries and obvious enemies in service to our cultural craving for ethical perfection — the correct word, the right behavior, the sole and righteous position on myriad complex issues...Kitamura works outside of this trendy literality by knowing, as the best writers do, that a story’s apparent subject does not determine its conceptual limits; plot summary would do this book no justice ... deeply engaged with these grand social issues, while it also makes subtle comments on everything from art to jealousy to gentrification ... Kitamura investigates these relationships as a lens for larger points, not as an end in themselves. The path a life cuts through the world, this book seems to say, has its greatest significance in the effect it has on others ... In a time when so many intimacies have been forced or foreclosed by quarantine, this novel is felicitous. Breath itself, that intimate air, has united our worlds in death and fear. Even global events — a pandemic, a protest, a war — arise first in the delicate space between people ... contains a keen understanding of human behavior, one that reaches far beyond the pages of this brief and arresting book; she travels to places that ordinary writers cannot go.
... coolly written and casts a spell. The light it emits is ghostly, like that from under the lid of a Xerox machine ... The narrator’s voice is largely bloodless. One of Kitamura’s gifts, though, is to inject every scene with a pinprick of dread. Your animal instincts as a reader — the tingling of the skin, the eagerness to pick the book back up — may be engaged before the rest of you is ... Kitamura pays attention to the dark side of urban landscapes, the things we prefer not to learn about ... All novels are, in a sense, about language, but Intimacies presses down on how meaning is made, and how it is compromised ... the real heat here, as in Kitamura’s previous novel, A Separation (2017), lies in the author’s abiding interest in the subtleties of human power dynamics ... Few novelists write so astringently about how we misread people, and are forced to refresh, as if on a web browser, our assumptions about them ... I like Intimacies — it’s certainly one of the best novels I’ve read in 2021 — without it quite being the sort of thing I like. The rapt attention it pays to the problems of glamorous, international, well-appointed people, not to go all Tea Party on the readers of this review, poked whatever class antagonisms I cling to ... You don’t sense the grit and grain of life. No one has ill-timed acne, or really can’t catch a cab. There are not many stray, stabbing insights. A film version would feature a lot of long, somber, pre-dawn drone shots of the stylish urban landscape and a thrumming score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross ... Kitamura has delivered a taut, moody novel that moves purposefully between worlds.