[Review] Diary of a Void by Emi Yagi

3 Things About This Book
| Narrator Fakes a Pregnancy to Escape Workplace Sexism | Social Commentary on Everyday Misogyny, Gender Roles and Societal Expectations | Engrossing, Defiant and Clever |

Diary of a Void by Emi Yagi
Published: 2022 by Harvill Secker
Genre(s): Asian Literature, Fiction
Book Depository

When you live in a deeply patriarchal society with misogyny ingrained in just about everything, how long will it take before you get sick of it? If you, a female, are to do all the menial tasks that everyone else is capable of doing but don’t because they’re roles ‘females should do instead’?

Shibata is an office worker who often works overtime because she doesn’t have enough time during work hours to complete her actual job. It’s easy to think this is probably because she’s an inefficient worker or just someone who others can bully into doing their jobs for them, but the actual cause is the time-consuming menial tasks the men in her department leave to her. Cleaning the microwave, making coffee, clearing up after meetings, answering the phone, passing out samples — all easy, largely no-brainer jobs that anyone could do, except the men don’t because those are ‘the jobs of women’. As a result, they benefit from her making their time in the office much smoother while Shibata becomes increasingly resentful and angry.

The last straw for Shibata is when her section head singles her out to clean the dirty cups in the meeting room. Dirty cups that have been left sitting there for hours, stuffed with disgusting cigarette butts and not to mention, some of those cups still have coffee in them! So, what does Shibata too? She decides to pull off the mother (pun intended) of all deceptions by pretending to be pregnant.

Almost at once, those menial tasks are relegated and divided among her colleagues. Shibata can leave work earlier, allowing her to take care of herself better because now she can cook her meals, exercise, indulge in entertainment and more. Though with the added freedom also comes with the added awareness of how lonely she is because while she was slaving away, her friends have their own families and even the strangers she passes by are surrounded by others.

As we read on, we realise that Shibata may not have been as mentally strong or well as she may have appeared to be when she decided to fake her pregnancy. Fantasy and reality become increasingly blurred, fueled by Shibata’s desire to be treated better, to ensure that her lie won’t be found out, and the loneliness she tries to keep at bay with the fake child in her tummy. It’s saddening, especially when the understanding of how her situation is similar to the actual realities of those facing modern-day alienation, stressors and loneliness dawns upon us. Moreover, considering how common karoshi (overwork death) is in Japan, Shibata’s fake pregnancy wasn’t just a way to get back at the men who treated her poorly, but an escape before things could potentially spiral in a worse direction.

That said, whether you read this book from a feminist perspective, with the tang ping movement in mind, or any other lens applicable to the social commentary here, Diary of a Void remains an engrossing, defiant and clever read. No words are wasted and the scenes will leave you wondering about potential hidden meanings.



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