6 January 16 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews section is by Will Eells on The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura, translated by Allison Markin Powell and out from Soho Crime.

Here’s the beginning of Will’s review:

Like any good potboiler worth its salt, Fuminori Nakamura’s The Gun wastes no time setting up its premise: “Last night, I found a gun. Or you could say I stole it, I’m not really sure. I’ve never seen something so beautiful, or that feels so right in my hand. I didn’t have much interest in guns before, but the moment I saw it, all I could think about was making it mine.”

The “I” here is a young man named Nishikawa. He’s probably in his 20s, because he’s a university student, but beyond that, there’s not much to glean from his personal life, because he’s not one for introspection. Much more fascinating is his new object of obsession, and like a man sleepwalking through life, Nishikawa finally seems to have a purpose: to use that gun.

For a debut novel, there is a lot to like here. Despite some clunky and repetitive prose, Nakamura knows how to ratchet up the tension, as we slowly progress from Nishikawa simply owning the gun, to taking care of the gun, to bringing the gun around with him, until finally, feeling like he needs to shoot that gun, at something or someone. Even as readers we know this is a foregone conclusion, but Nakamura, particularly as we barrel into the climax, knows how to employ multiple bait and switches to keep us guessing as to Nishikawa’s ultimate fate.

For the rest of the review, go here.

6 January 16 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

Like any good potboiler worth its salt, Fuminori Nakamura’s The Gun wastes no time setting up its premise: “Last night, I found a gun. Or you could say I stole it, I’m not really sure. I’ve never seen something so beautiful, or that feels so right in my hand. I didn’t have much interest in guns before, but the moment I saw it, all I could think about was making it mine.”

The “I” here is a young man named Nishikawa. He’s probably in his 20s, because he’s a university student, but beyond that, there’s not much to glean from his personal life, because he’s not one for introspection. Much more fascinating is his new object of obsession, and like a man sleepwalking through life, Nishikawa finally seems to have a purpose: to use that gun.

For a debut novel, there is a lot to like here. Despite some clunky and repetitive prose, Nakamura knows how to ratchet up the tension, as we slowly progress from Nishikawa simply owning the gun, to taking care of the gun, to bringing the gun around with him, until finally, feeling like he needs to shoot that gun, at something or someone. Even as readers we know this is a foregone conclusion, but Nakamura, particularly as we barrel into the climax, knows how to employ multiple bait and switches to keep us guessing as to Nishikawa’s ultimate fate.

What’s most satisfying about The Gun, though, is how fully realized Nishikawa is as a character for whom self-analysis is not only difficult, but pointless. Where The Gun really succeeds is as a portrait of a young sociopath, vaguely aware of traditional morality but ultimately succumbing to his own desires against all else. His obsession with the gun is chilling simply because of how easily he can justify his own compulsions, and treat them as practically mundane:

I rarely yearned for anything out of the ordinary. It didn’t much matter to me if everyone else had the same things as I did. The thing was that I had found it. The same way that, for instance, some people found pleasure drawing pictures or making music, or they relied on work or women, drugs or religion, I felt like I had discovered what I was passionate about. And for me, that thing was nothing more than the gun. There was nothing wrong with me. That’s what I realized. And I started to relax.

So what makes a sociopath? Nakamura gives us no easy answers, but simply a number of clues that might lead in one direction or another; perhaps it’s a combination of all of them, or none at all.

Written initially in 2002, The Gun, despite being written in Japan, is a thoroughly post 9-11 novel, and one that still hold weight in today’s America, a country divided between the threat of ISIS and terrorism and the homespun problems of domestic gun laws. In one section, Nishikawa goes to the library to find news stories about the missing gun, and glazes over a litany of issues that still resonate eerily today:

The vast majority of the articles were completely irrelevant to me. Whether the Americans had dropped a bomb somewhere in Afghanistan, or whether their strategy would succeed-these kinds of things had nothing to do with me right now. What Japan’s reaction would be, or whether Japan would become entangled with it-such questions did not interest me at the moment either. A kid had died after being bullied, and his parents had sued the school and the bully. There was a fire somewhere, and it was difficult to say whether it had been arson or an accident. There was a festival. Funds were embezzled, and the culprit had fled. There was a scientific discovery. Two trucks had collided. Someone had been run over. An intellectual whose name I didn’t recognize gave his opinions about the United States, offering advice to the Japanese government. Politicians quarreled, talking earnestly about something or other. Two entertainers died. It seemed like the information I was looking for was not to be found in any of these newspapers.

The descriptions above are vague, yes, but in its blandness the reader sees how very little progress the world has seen in the last fifteen years.

One thing that’s not made explicit, but tacitly alluded to (why would it, in a book written initially for Japanese readers) is that the whole reason finding this particular gun is extraordinary is because guns are illegal in Japan, and not “just a part of everyday life, nothing particularly unusual about them” like they are in the United States. So is Westernization to blame, influences from a violent, external cultural force?

Not quite, or probably not entirely (Japan certainly has its share of crime, murder, and suicide). Is it instead, perhaps, a lack of culture? Nishikawa is constantly referencing the boredom and monotony of his existence, and is essentially a person with no particular passions or desire for the future, until, at least, he finds the gun. But Nishikawa is far from the only character affected by ennui. All of Nishikawa’s friends and acquaintances are of dubious moral standards or at the very least, not particularly driven. There’s Toast Girl, a nameless, casual sex partner who doesn’t mind sleeping with Nishikawa as long as her boyfriend doesn’t find out; Keisuke, his sex-driven, womanizing “friend”; his neighbor, who it becomes clear is beating her son; and finally, Yuko, a classmate for whom Nishikawa may have some deeper feelings for, but who is equally apathetic about her future and why she even bothers with university in the first place. Is perhaps The Gun a criticism of meaningful opportunity and engagement for Japan’s Millennial generation?

Finally, and somewhat less successfully, is a rather humdrum Nature vs. Nurture question. It turns out Nishikawa was more or less orphaned when his real father abandoned him (being raised instead by foster parents), and whom Nishikawa visits on his deathbed in the course of the novel. The connection is more or less made explicit when Nishikawa suddenly remembers how at the orphanage, he had trained himself with a coping mechanism of: “if I didn’t think about things, then I wouldn’t be unhappy.”

Nakamura seems content to let all these factors influence the reader’s perception, and it ultimately works because, instead of an easy answer, what the reader gets is a surprisingly complex character study of a very unreliable narrator. In his writing career, Nakamura would also go on to receive great acclaim for another character study disguised as run-of-the-mill thriller with The Thief, the first of his novels to come out in English from Soho Press. The Gun is an admittedly rough genesis of what would become Nakamura’s ultimate strength, and why he’s more Patricia Highsmith than James Patterson: a literary bias toward character over plot machinations. And despite his penchant for the darkness in his character’s souls, in the end, Nakamura betrays his slightly more optimistic outlook for humanity: the fascination and impulse for destruction is human, but the act is not. The problem is that the line dividing the two is awfully thin.

26 May 15 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Following on my earlier post about the “buzz” panel on general fiction in translation, here’s some info about the one that Tom Roberge will be moderating on Friday morning, which will be featuring all crime novels.

BEA Selects Crime Fiction in Translation
Fricay, May 28th, 10:30am
Eastside Stage

Europa Editions (Booth 3124) will be presenting two titles, starting with Massimo Carlotto’s Gang of Lovers, translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar:

Padua, Italy. An unremarkable man, a husband and father, disappears without a trace. After a few months of searching, the police send his file to the cold cases department to be thrown in with the files of other missing persons. One woman knows the truth about his disappearance, but, being the daughter of a prominent and wealthy Swiss industrialist she fears coming forward with what she knows: that she was his lover and that there is more to his disappearance than another bored suburban husband running out on his. Stricken by guilt, she finally confides in a lawyer who advises her to turn to Marco Buratti, aka The Alligator, for help.

And, Michael Reynolds will also present Maurizio de Giovanni’s The Bottom of Your Heart, also translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar:

In the middle of a summer heat wave, as Naples prepares for one of its most important holy days, a renowned surgeon falls to his death from his office window. For Commissario Ricciardi and Brigadier Maione it is the beginning of an investigation that will bring them into contact with the most torrid, conflicting, and enduring of human passions. In the world Ricciardi and Maione are about to enter, infidelity appears inextricable from the most joyful expressions of love, and, this interdependence sows doubt and uncertainty in both men, compromising their personal lives.

Europa Editions is celebrating their 10th Anniversary this year, starting with a party tonight at Greenlight Bookstore. I’m planning on going, and, as if it were still 2008, I’m going to try and do some crazy blogging about BEA when I get back. Stay tuned.

Soho Press (Booth 3240) will present The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura, translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell:

On a nighttime walk along a Tokyo riverbank, a young man named Nishikawa stumbles on a dead body, besides which is lying a gun. From the moment Nishikawa makes the decision to take the gun, the world around him blurs. Knowing he possesses the gun brings an intoxicating sense of purpose to his dull university life. But Nishikawa’s personal entanglements are becoming unexpectedly complicated: he finds himself romantically involved with two women, while his biological father, whom he’s never met, lies dying in a hospital. Through it all, he can’t stop thinking about the gun—and the four bullets preloaded in its chamber. As he spirals into obsession, his focus is consumed by one idea: that possessing the gun is no longer enough—he must fire it.

Soho is one of the coolest presses publishing today. Great crime books, great literary fiction, great covers, great staff.

Come out on Friday to see Tom host this panel with Michael Reynolds and Juliet Grames.

14 February 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

For all of you lucky people living in the great city of New York, here are two fantastic upcoming events that you should try and attend.

First off, next Thursday, February 21st at 7pm at McNally Jackson, Stephen Snyder and Allison Markin Powell (both of whom make me swoon) will be talking about Japanese literature in translation as part of the always excellent Bridge Series.

Here’s a bit about both Stephen and Allison:

Stephen Snyder is Kawashima Professor of Japanese Studies at Middlebury College in Vermont. His most recent translation is Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales (Picador, January 2013). He has translated works by Ogawa, Kenzaburo Oe, Ryu Murakami, and Miri Yu, among others. His translation of Kunio Tsuji’s Azuchi Okanki (The Signore) won the 1990 Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission translation prize. His translation of Natsuo Kirino’s Out was a finalist for the Edgar Award for best mystery novel in 2004. His translation of Yoko Ogawa’s Hotel Iris was short-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2011. He is the author of Fictions of Desire: Narrative Form in the Novels of Nagai Kafu and co-editor of Oe and Beyond: Fiction in Contemporary Japan, and he is currently working on a study of publishing practices in Japan and the United States and their effects on the globalization of Japanese literature.

Allison Markin Powell is a literary translator and editor. She has translated works by Motoyuki Shibata, Osamu Dazai (Schoolgirl, published by One Peace Books in 2011), and Hiromi Kawakami, among others, and was the guest editor for Words Without Borders’ first Japan issue. Her translation of Kawakami’s novel The Briefcase (Counterpoint, 2012) has been shortlisted for the 2012 Man Asian Prize.

I’ll bet this will be fantastic . . . really bummed that I’m only staying in NY through Wednesday night. And we’ll have a review of The Briefcase soon. I quite liked Hiromi Kawakami’s earlier novel, Manazuru, so I’m psyched to check this out. And Ogawa’s Revenge is top of my to read pile thanks to Will’s review.

*

Also next weekend, the Fourth Annual Festival Neue Literature celebrating German-language literature will be taking place across Manhattan and Brooklyn. This year’s festival is curated by Susan Bernofsky and will feature Clemens Setz (Austria), Cornelia Travnicek (Austria), Leif Randt (Germany), Silke Scheuermann (Germany), Ulrike Ulrich (Switzerland), and Tim Krohn (Switzerland), as well as U.S. authors Joshua Ferris and Justin Taylor.

There are two “signature discussion panels” taking place this year: “Closed Circuits: Shrunken Dystopias” and “Breaking Away: Contemporary Travelogues.” Here’s all the info about both of those:

Closed Circuits: Shrunken Dystopias
Saturday, February 23rd.
6:30-8:30pm @ powerHouse Arena
37 Main Street, Brooklyn

With authors Leif Randt, Silke Scheuermann, Clemens Setz, and Justin Taylor

Dystopias used to be grand affairs, encompassing entire planets, but now you can find one contained in a suburban block on the outskirts of Frankfurt, an uncannily odd resort town in a mysterious locale, or a home for children suffering the world’s strangest disorder. Dysfunction is the new dystopia, and these subtly wry to bitingly ironic commentaries uniquely encapsulate the post-modern condition.

Moderated by Susan Bernofsky

And:

Breaking Away: Contemporary Travelogues
Sunday, February 24th
6:00pm-8:30pm
McNally Jackson Bookstore
52 Prince Street, Manhattan

With authors Tim Krohn, Cornelia Travnicek, Ulrike Ulrich, Joshua Ferris

Here today, there tomorrow. Old-style travel stories seemed always to be about characters in search of themselves as inscribed in foreign landscapes. But what if the point of the travel is more escapist than exploratory? In these novels of discovery-avoidance – an avoidance not always successful – the journey is both more and less than a destination.

Moderated by Claudia Steinberg

You can find the complete schedule of events here.

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