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.

21 August 12 | Aleksandra Fazlipour | Comments

Fuminori Nakamura is no stranger to the world of literature; his works have received much critical praise throughout Japan and have been honored by various literary awards. Nakamura’s The Thief, however, is the first of his novels to be published in English. Winner of the prestigious Oe Prize, The Thief follows a nameless pickpocket through Tokyo. While the reader witnesses events ranging from petty shoplifting to cold-blooded murder, this is by no means a typical crime thriller. Instead of focusing on the scenes of action, Nakamura explores the convoluted psychological and physical sensations of a pickpocket’s world.

The thief is a very solitary character. He occasionally remembers a past lover named Saeko and a fellow pickpocket named Ishikawa; beyond them, however, it seems as if the thief has rarely interacted with others. He does narrate the novel, allowing the reader first-hand access to his thoughts as well as to his physical perceptions. The reader is able to interact with the thief in a very exclusive way, and it soon becomes hard to condemn him, however illegal his pursuits. This sympathy is not so much due to an understanding or approval of the thief’s motivations—he rarely attempts to defend his lifestyle; in fact, he often finds himself stealing for the mere thrill of it instead of as a means of survival. Rather, the reader becomes so intimate with the thief’s thoughts and feelings that it is becomes possible to forgive his moral imperfection.

The novel begins with the thief casually stealing wallets from various members of the Japanese elite. Nakamura renders these acts with scrupulous detail, including the various physical sensations that stealing evokes. After explaining each pre-meditative step involved in an incident of pick pocketing, the thief begins to put his plan into action:

I breathed in gently and held it, pinched the corner of the wallet and pulled it out. A quiver ran from my fingertips to my shoulder and a warm sensation gradually spread throughout my body. I felt like I was standing in a void, as though with the countless intersecting lines of vision of all those people, not one was directed at me. (3)

The reader understands the strange excitement that the thief is feeling while committing a crime.

While the thief continues pick pocketing in this manner throughout the novel, it soon becomes evident that the thief’s criminal tendencies are not limited to the mere stealing of wallets. This is not, however, by his own choice—a man named Kizaki coerces the thief, along with Ishikawa and another man named Tachibana, into participating in an elaborate armed robbery in which someone is killed. Nakamura presents Kizaki as a terrifyingly powerful man, one whose past crimes seem to transcend the wildest dreams of a pickpocket; it is clear that his demands should not be declined by anyone who values his life. This event is a pivotal moment of the novel: the thief is now involved in Kizaki’s sinister, bloody world of crime.

The thief attempts to return to his previous life of solitude but finds it impossible to do so. Fear of Kizaki is one major reason for this—Ishikawa has mysteriously disappeared and the thief is afraid for his own life. Another reason, however, comes in the form of a two complicated characters, a young boy and his mother. They are very poor and resort to theft and prostitution as their means of survival. After a series of chance meetings, the thief begins to develop a fascinating relationship with the mother and child. The mother seems to remind him of Saeko, the only woman from the thief’s past whom he ever recalls. In the boy, the thief sees a small child doomed to the miserable life of a pickpocket, and he is possessed by an unexpected desire to help him. Both relationships are peculiar: the thief seems to be somewhat disgusted with the woman’s lifestyle and finds the presence of the child occasionally irritating and unwelcome.

These relationships are an appreciated development in the novel, enhancing the multi-faceted character of the thief. They are also, however, a key piece in the thief’s decline. Just as this new, tender side of the thief is exposed, Kizaki comes back into his life and orders him to participate in a series of near-impossible tasks. If the thief refuses to do so or fails in his attempts, Kizaki will kill him. In addition Kizaki uses the thief’s new relationships to his advantage: he threatens to kill the young boy and his mother if the thief does not complete the assignments. He chastises the thief for giving him the opportunity to do so, saying, “Even though you’ve chosen this lifestyle, you still seek attachments. That’s the height of stupidity. You’d be much better off if you were truly free” (133).

With fear as his motivation, the thief sets off to follow Kizaki’s orders. Again, Nakamura describes every meticulous detail of the thief’s actions, allowing the reader to observe his anxiety and frustration, both in planning and in performing each operation, first-hand. The remainder of the novel is incredibly suspenseful, as the thief experiences several triumphs alongside numerous setbacks. At times, it seems as if he will do the impossible and succeed in his various quests while at others it feels certain that the thief is doomed to fall at the remorseless hands of Kizaki.

Regardless, the thief continues to fight for his life and for the lives of his solitary acquaintances through the shocking final pages of the book. Nakamura succeeds in creating a complicated crime novel in which the focus is not on the crimes themselves but rather on the psychology and physicality of the criminal. The book’s power inheres in the voice of the thief, which is itself as meticulously rendered as the thief’s every action.

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