REVIEW: “The Factory” by Hiroko Oyamada


Hiroko Oyamada puts work front and center in her novella, The Factory. The main way she achieves this is through the book’s setting. Oyamada creates the factory as an enclosed world with restaurants, schools, museums, roads, animals, rivers, forests, and bridges. It is not merely a place where people come to do their jobs and leave; it is a place where people live, work, eat, and sleep. This type of work environment is far from fiction. Take Facebook who is currently expanding its campus in Menlo Park, California. Their campus already includes some housing, but after the expansion, they will be able to house a minimum of 1,500 employees. Currently, their campus contains a main street with restaurants and shops, but by 2021 they plan to add a grocery store, pharmacy, and 125,000 square feet of retail space. Facebook is creating its own corporate mini-city, and Oyamada not only draws on this trend to create an intriguing setting but to ask important questions: What happens to our humanity when our work is indistinguishable from our personal lives? How does capitalism deprive our humanity by allowing meaningless jobs to make up the majority of our days? Each of Oyamada’s three central characters grapple with these questions. While at the factory, their lives slowly become fragmented by the work they perform and the mysteries they encounter. They are warned about the strange animals living in the pipes and a man who is notorious for depantsing people, but arguably the mystery most persistent for these characters is the work itself. None of them can make meaning out of the jobs they were assigned.