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
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.
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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