A New Novel Asks: Are We All Complicit?

In her art, KATIE KITAMURA EXPLORES INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS ON ALL LEVELS. This Intimacy may be created between two individuals — perhaps a spouse or a friend — in a small group in a pleasant environment, or simply between oneself and oneself. In her earlier work, A Separation, a lady quits her unfaithful spouse only to keep their divorce private and hidden from others. She unwillingly travels to Greece to search for her husband after they divorce, half anxious about wanting to put the past behind and half scared about what she could discover.

Intimacy takes shape and is tested in many places throughout the narrative. In both her personal and professional lives, the protagonist finds herself in numerous intimate circumstances. There’s the intimacy between her and Adriaan as their new relationship grows, but there’s also the closeness between the heroine and her extroverted friend Jana, a curator at a national gallery with whom she has many meals, and the intimacy between Jana and Adriaan when they first meet. Nothing is off bounds when it comes to an ostensibly personal relationship, not even in court, where the protagonist and the accused develop a bond.

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The narrator of Katie Kitamura’s latest novel, Intimacies, is translating for an African tyrant on trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity at an institution modeled after the United Nations’ International Court of Justice. He draws the woman in closer as if expecting her to sympathize with him. Then, as part of her work, she translates specific acts of terror, murder, and rape on his behalf, striving to maintain composure in front of the court. “I no longer thought that serenity was either tenable or desirable,” she admits later in the narrative, after months by his side. Everything inside was corroded.”

In the end, the protagonist has the most personal relationship with herself. She is closest to her inner self because she holds so much inside, thinking things over and over in her brain rather than talking things out with others. This is a strength for her — she is a dedicated thinker — but it can also be a liability, especially when she spirals.

The guys in her life appear to have a need for her, generally for their personal gain and have no qualms about stringing her along. Adriaan invites her to stay at his flat while he searches for his wife and children in Lisbon, which she initially misinterprets as an offer of affection. She thinks he’s asking her to remain, so she waits for him to come back. But when a week goes into a month, she learns she is just a fixture in someone else’s household, and that she may be more of a house sitter than anyone’s true love interest, as Adriaan’s wife put it.