The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo

Screams in the night…

😀 😀 😀 😀

On the night of their wedding, Kenzo and his new bride Katsuko have retired to the annexe of the family home after a day of ritual celebration. The remaining guests are staying with the rest of the family in the main house, but they are startled awake in the middle of the night by screams and the sounds of a koto (a Japanese stringed instrument) twanging wildly. By the time they get to the annexe, it’s too late – Kenzo and Katsuko are dead, brutally slain by someone wielding the katana which is usually kept in the main house. But the annexe is sealed – all doors and windows locked from the inside – and the snow which has just fallen is pristine, with no trace of footmarks. How did the murderer get in and out, and who is the strange three-fingered man who’s been seen in the neighbourhood recently, asking for directions to the house?

The author, through his narrator, is quite open about having been influenced by many of the classic locked room mysteries of the Golden Age, giving special mention to The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux and the works of John Dickson Carr, an accepted master of this form of mystery. I haven’t read a lot of Carr, but for my money Leroux has clearly been the main influence on the plot and style of this one.

As so often happens with locked room mysteries, I felt that characterisation and motive came in as poor seconds to the intricacy of the way in which the murder was contrived. That’s not to say that the plot is weak – in fact, the reason for the murder is interesting and based firmly in the mores of the society at that time, and indeed it depends strongly on an understanding of the character of the murderer. But I felt these were presented too much as a given, rather than the reader learning about them for herself by observing the characters interact. Without getting into spoiler territory, so forgive vagueness, I also felt that one of the other characters’ behaviour was stretched well beyond the limits of credibility purely because s/he had to act in the way s/he does to make the murder method work. However, as I said, this is a common occurrence in locked room mysteries, and no worse in this one than in many others – it’s just not a sub-genre I’m particularly fond of.

The translation by Louise Heal Kawai is mostly very good, flowing and readable without any feeling of clunkiness. However the translator has chose to leave too many Japanese terms for my taste – I can see that this keeps the Japanese flavour better, but often I simply didn’t know what was being described and nor did my built-in Kindle dictionary. Sometimes, she would explain a word on its first appearance, but not always, and even when she did it meant I frequently had to search back to remind myself. This is a subjective criticism, though, and it certainly wasn’t a big enough problem to seriously affect either my understanding or enjoyment of the book.

The all-important murder method is extremely convoluted, and rather depends on a fortuitous fall of snow at exactly the right moment, which felt a little bit like cheating. However, in general the plot is fair play – the clues are all given, although this poor reader missed nearly every one!

Overall, then, I enjoyed this short novel with a few reservations, and I’m sure it will appeal even more to real aficionados of the locked room mystery who might be more interested in the method than the characterisation. And it did make me go to youtube to find out what a koto looks and sounds like…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Pushkin Press.

Book 8 of 20

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Penance by Kanae Minato

Survivor guilt…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Five young girls sneak into their school playground on a holiday to practice volleyball. While there, a workman arrives and asks if one of them will help him do a small job in the changing room. It’s a while before the other girls notice that Emily hasn’t returned, and when they look for her, it’s too late – all they find is her body. None of the girls is able to describe the man well – they are young, they weren’t paying particular attention, they are suffering from shock. As time passes without an arrest, in her grief Emily’s mother tells them they must either give the police enough information to catch the killer, or do something that she will accept as appropriate atonement. She gives them a deadline – the statute of limitations on the crime will run out in fifteen years…

In Minato’s earlier excellent book, Confessions, she looked at the motivation for crime and at revenge. In this one, she takes a fascinating look at how a crime affects not only the direct victim, but the people touched by it in other ways. Each of the four surviving girls, now women, tells her tale in turn. We see how their immediate reactions to the crime were affected by their own personalities, and then Minato takes us into their families so that we can see how each of those personalities was formed. This provides a base for taking us forwards from the crime, seeing how it affected each child as she grew up – not just the horror of the day itself, but the guilt of knowing that they had neither protected Emily nor helped bring her killer to justice, and the fear of knowing that the killer is still at large knowing they are the only witnesses.

As the deadline for the statute of limitations approaches, we see how for each girl this leads indirectly to a kind of crisis. Minato doesn’t forget the grieving mother in all this – years on, does she still feel the same? Does she still require the girls to do penance, or has time enabled her to see that the girls were victims too? And lastly, almost as a minor story, will time allow the girls to recognise small clues that they missed in their youth, in time for the murderer to be caught?

When reading Japanese fiction, I often find the society so different from our Western one that it’s almost incomprehensible to me. I’ve commented in the past that there seems to be a huge disconnect between the generations, that young people seem to have rejected the values of their parents but haven’t yet found anything to replace them with, leaving a dangerous moral vacuum. Intriguingly, that isn’t the case with this one. Perhaps because it’s set in a small town rather than in Tokyo, the family structures seem stronger and more traditional, though we see clearly how sons are still more valued than daughters. Some of these families have problems, indeed, but the kind of problems we would be familiar with in our own society. I also noted that Minato mentioned in passing that there seems to be a slight move away from driving the children quite so hard towards educational success at the expense of all else – a small recognition of the harm that can be caused by the excessive stress that was being put on young people. And this is one of the reasons I enjoy her books – she always provides intriguing insights into society, especially family life and education, in modern Japan.

Kanae Minato

But she also tells a great tale! I was completely caught up in each girl’s story and, while there are moments that stretch credulity, it never goes past the breaking point. The characterisation is excellent, and though we see the murder again and again, each voice and perspective is original enough to stop it feeling repetitive. After the murder, the girls’ lives go off in different directions, so Minato has room to cover a lot of ground with four very different stories, but all linked to the central event so that with each telling the reader learns a little more about the lead up to and aftermath of the crime. And in the final chapters she manages to bring it all together, so that there’s a real feeling of resolution – not a slick happy ending, but a sense of closure for some of the characters at least. Another excellent novel from Minato – my tentative love affair with the strangeness of Japanese crime fiction continues…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Mulholland Books.

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Douglas MacArthur: American Warrior by Arthur Herman

Duty, Honor, Country…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

douglas macarthurIn his preface, Herman discusses previous biographies of General Douglas MacArthur, some sycophantic in their admiration, others dismissing him as everything from vain to incompetent. His hope is that by the end of the book the reader will be able to decide which description is the true one. Herman has ranged widely in his search for accurate source material, including China, Japan and Russia; and has also had access to newly opened archives within the US.

I start by saying that, prior to reading this book, I knew absolutely nothing about Douglas MacArthur and very little about the events in which he was involved. I am, therefore, in no position to judge the accuracy of either the history or the portrait Herman paints of this clearly divisive American hero. I decided to read it because I have greatly enjoyed several other of Herman’s books, finding him a great storyteller who brings history vividly to life. And from the prologue of this one, where he gives a dramatic description of the events at Inchon and then leaves those of us who don’t know our history on a cliffhanger, foreshadowing MacArthur’s future downfall, I knew he was going to achieve the remarkable, I might even have said impossible, feat of making me enjoy over 800 pages of the history of a soldier fighting the various American wars of the first half of the twentieth century.

douglas macarthur pipe

In his conclusion, Herman suggests there are three main aspects that are crucial to understanding Douglas MacArthur – the degree to which he was influenced by his father’s life; the relationships with the various women in his life, his mother and his second wife Jean in particular; and his “brilliance as a grand strategist – perhaps the most incisive the American military has ever produced.” This serves as a fair summary of how Herman approaches his subject throughout the book.

To explain how influential Arthur MacArthur was on his son’s life, Herman gives the reader a mini-biography of the elder man – his early career as a Unionist hero of the Civil War, and his later fascination with the East, becoming convinced that the Pacific rim would be of more importance to the future America than its old attachments to Europe. So interesting does Herman make this story that I was left hoping that perhaps his next task will be to do a full biography of Arthur, a man whose life sounds as eventful and interesting as his son’s.

Arthur MacArthur - commissioned as an officer in the Union army at age 17, he won the Medal of Honor for his actions the following year at Missionary Ridge. Douglas would strive for years to equal his father's achievement, and was eventually granted his own Medal of Honor, making them the first father and son to achieve this.
Arthur MacArthur – commissioned as an officer in the Union army at age 17, he won the Medal of Honor for his actions the following year at Missionary Ridge. Douglas would strive for years to equal his father’s achievement, and was eventually granted his own Medal of Honor, making them the first father and son to achieve this.

Herman goes into Douglas MacArthur’s relationship with his mother in some depth, suggesting that she was something of a driving force behind her son’s career not just in his youth but right through till his late thirties and forties. A late bloomer in the romance stakes, MacArthur’s first marriage failed quite quickly. His second marriage to Jean, however, brought him the kind of support his mother had provided and Herman shows how important this domestic stability was to MacArthur when dealing with the various military crises of his life.

Douglas and Jean MacArthur
Douglas and Jean MacArthur

While talking about MacArthur’s career between the two world wars, Herman praises MacArthur’s achievements both as head of the US Olympic committee and for forcing the Army to face up to the need to modernise the training of its young officers while he was in charge of West Point. He also discusses in depth the apparently infamous breaking up of the Bonus Army camps, when MacArthur used troops to drive out army veterans who were protesting over the government’s refusal to bring forward payment of their promised bonuses. Since this was an episode I had never heard of, I was totally reliant on Herman’s version. It seemed to me that he very much took MacArthur’s side, perhaps too much so, almost absolving him of all responsibility for the matter.

Soldiers in gas masks advance on World War I veterans in the Bonus March protest in Washington in July 1932.
Soldiers in gas masks advance on World War I veterans in the Bonus March protest in Washington in July 1932.

However, he also put the opposite case clearly enough for me to consider the question of bias at all, and that’s one of the main reasons I like Herman. In the past, I have always found him to be sympathetic to his subjects, and so he is in this one. But although he can come across as biased in his conclusions, it seems to me he always presents the other side of the argument, leaving the reader to follow his bias or argue against it. Since it is a rare author indeed who can write without bias, my preference is for open bias of the Herman kind, rather than the kind where only one story is told with no indication that there may be another version.

MacArthur striding ashore at the amphibious landing at Leyte, Philippines - a picture his detractors claim he staged.
MacArthur striding ashore at the amphibious landing at Leyte, Philippines – a picture his detractors claim he staged.

But the real meat of the book is, as it should be, MacArthur’s military career. So involved was MacArthur in most of the important events of the time, so well told are the various episodes, so clearly does Herman lay out the background and consequences of each, that the book is as much history as biography. From MacArthur’s leadership of the Rainbow Division in WW1, through the often horrific story of the Philippines, Japan and the Pacific arena in WW2, and on to MacArthur’s successes and failures in Korea, Herman thoroughly explains the politics, domestic and foreign, that impacted on each campaign, and provides clear and often very moving stories of the military battles, showing how narrow is the dividing line between heroic success and tragic failure. Herman also delves into the period after WW2 when MacArthur spent some years as the ‘American Shogun’ ruling almost monarchically over a defeated Japan, and paints him as someone who chose not to exact revenge, but rather to try to change the culture and structure of the society to prevent future wars. Herman in fact gives MacArthur credit for sowing the seeds of the Japanese economic miracle of the latter part of the century.

General MacArthur, in behalf of the Allies, accepting the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945
General MacArthur, on behalf of the Allies, accepting the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945

Throughout all this, Herman doesn’t shy away from criticising MacArthur’s decisions on occasion, but always puts his mistakes into context. The picture that emerges is of a true military hero, a man of great personal courage, with a huge ego and a desire for public recognition and even glory, but with a driving ambition to see his nation provide a shining example to the rest of the world. A flawed hero perhaps, but I sometimes think we as a society expect a level of perfection that our heroes cannot possibly achieve, and in general I prefer sympathetic biographies that recognise and allow for human fallibility. So from my perspective, this is another great biography from Herman, thoroughly researched and immensely readable. I shall leave it to the MacArthur buffs on both sides to argue over its bias or otherwise.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House.

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Confessions by Kanae Minato

confessionsDark and compelling…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Middle-grade teacher Yuko Moriguchi is about to retire from teaching following the tragic death of her young daughter in the school’s swimming pool. But her farewell speech is unusual to say the least, as she accuses two of her pupils of murdering her daughter and then tells them of how she plans to get her revenge…

Each time I read a Japanese novel I come away from it feeling more and more that it’s a society I simply don’t understand, and one that always seems to be deeply troubled. In this short novel, we know who the victim and murderers are from a fairly early stage, but we don’t know the motivations. The book is divided into sections, each told in the first person from a different viewpoint. Starting as it does with the deliberate murder of a child by other children, it’s hard to imagine that it could get darker as it progresses – but it does. However it’s written in a style that somehow prevents it from becoming too grim a read, perhaps because the crime itself is somewhat secondary to the stories of what has brought each of the characters to this particular point. There should be a credibility problem in that the likelihood of their being so many morally corrupted people in one place is remote. But the story is so absorbing that it becomes chillingly believable.

The society Minato describes is one where traditional family life is breaking down under the assault of modernism but, as I’ve found in Japanese fiction before, the old values seem to have been thrown out without new ones taking their place, leaving a kind of cultural or, in this case, moral vacuum. Minato looks at the role of women in particular, with each of the mothers in the book representing a different stage of this seeming breakdown. Yuko is a single mother and Minato shows how this is still much more frowned upon than it is in most Western societies. The mother of one of the boys is an old-fashioned stay-at-home mother, but we see clearly how this is becoming more difficult in a society where the children are growing up with very different values and outlooks. The other boy’s mother gave up the prospect of a glittering career when she married, but her unhappiness in the traditional role has grave effects on her son.

Kanae Minato
Kanae Minato

As well as seeing how the various families function – or rather, don’t function – Minato takes us inside the school system. She shows us a society where the drive for educational attainment is so strong that the children seem to be under enormous stress. They seem isolated – there is more rivalry than friendship and bullying is the norm, tolerated to a large degree by the authorities. If this is in any way an accurate picture of life in Japan, I was astonished to learn that teachers are expected to be on-call to deal with problems the children might have outside school – another indication that the role of the parent is dangerously weak. The absence of fathers as authority figures is also striking and the overall sense is of children drifting without any strong moral guidance. I would normally say this all makes the book hard to believe, but in fact it ties in with a lot of the unease I’ve felt when reading other Japanese fiction.

I realise my review might have made the book sound like some kind of social sciences paper, but in fact the story is intriguing and very readable. As the well-drawn characters reveal their individual stories, I found my sympathies were constantly fluctuating. No-one comes out of the book as a hero but the line between victim and villain becomes so blurred that in the end it’s difficult to wholeheartedly condemn. There is one exception to that, in my opinion, but to reveal who and why would be a major spoiler. A strange book, dark and compelling – one of the more original crime novels I’ve read recently, and highly recommended.

This is another one that I found via an excellent review from Raven Crime Reads – thanks again, Raven! Keep up the good work! 😉

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Mulholland Books.

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Parade by Shuichi Yoshida

Strangely discombobulating…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

paradeFour young people are sharing a small flat in Tokyo, each having drifted there in a casual, unplanned way. Forced into a kind of physical intimacy by this living arrangement, each remains emotionally isolated and, as we discover, damaged to varying degrees by their pasts. Naoki is the eldest and something of a big brother figure to the rest – he originally shared the flat with his girlfriend, who left him for an older man but still pops back to visit and stay in the flat on occasion. Mirai works hard and plays hard, spending her evenings getting drunk in gay bars. Kotomi stays home all day watching TV and waiting for her soap-star boyfriend to ring. Ryosuke is a student and as we meet him he has just fallen in love with the girlfriend of his older friend and mentor. Then one morning a fifth arrives, Satoru – no-one really knows who invited him but in this casual set-up he soon becomes accepted as another flatmate, even though no-one is quite sure who he is or what he does when he works late at night.

Although this is billed as a crime thriller, it really falls much more into the category of literary fiction. There is a crime element but it’s almost entirely in the background for most of the book. There’s not much plot as such – this is more an examination of the somewhat empty and alienated lives of these young people. Each section of the book is narrated by a different character, so we get to see what they each think of the others and also to find out a bit about what has brought them here and made them who they are.

tokyo

Whenever I read Japanese fiction, I find it a strangely discombobulating experience – it always seems to reflect a society that is uneasy in its modernity, with a generation of young people who have thrown out the values of their elders but haven’t really found a way to replace them satisfactorily. There is always a sensation of drifting, of free-fall almost, and a kind of passivity that leaves me feeling as if there’s a dangerous void in the culture, waiting to be filled. But since I don’t know anything about Japan except through their fiction, I don’t know whether this is just a style of writing or whether it’s an accurate picture of the society.

I find Yoshida’s writing quite compelling and although I don’t always feel that I understand why his characters are as they are, I find them believable and fully rounded. The somewhat shocking ending of this one took me completely by surprise, and at first I felt almost as if the author hadn’t played fair with me. But a few days on I find the book is still running through my mind and I am seeing in retrospect what was hidden during the reading – which means that my appreciation for the ending has grown as I’ve gained a little distance from it.

Shuichi Yoshida
Shuichi Yoshida

Although this shares a translator, Philip Gabriel, with Yoshida’s first novel, I enjoyed the translation of this one much more. It is still Americanised but without the clumsy slang that irritated me so much in Villain.

On re-reading this review, I feel it isn’t giving a very clear picture of the book, and that’s actually a pretty accurate reflection of my feelings about it. I’m not sure I totally ‘got’ it (which happens to me a lot with Japanese fiction) but I am quite sure I found it a compelling and thought-provoking read. And I will most certainly be looking out for more of Yoshida’s work in future.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Vintage.

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A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

a tale for the time beingSlow-moving existential angst…

😐 😐 😐

Shortlisted for the 2013 Booker, this tells two intertwined tales – of Nao, a Japanese schoolgirl, and of Ruth, a Canadian author of Japanese heritage. Ruth has found Nao’s journal washed up on the shore and begins to obsess about finding out whether the people and events Nao discusses are true. Nao’s story is of a young girl who has lived most of her life in California but has now returned to Japan and we see the society through her eyes.

Nao’s story is interesting, if bleak. Having been brought up in California, Nao is seen as an outsider by her classmates on her return to Japan. We learn of the extreme bullying she is both subjected to and participates in at school, leading her to drop out. Meantime, her suicidal father is making repeated failed attempts to end his own life, leading Nao to harbour suicidal thoughts of her own. In an effort to break this cycle, her parents send her to spend the summer with her old great-grandmother, a Zen nun, who rapidly becomes Nao’s sole support and spiritual guide. While here, Nao learns the story of her great-uncle, a war-hero who died during WWII.

Ruth’s story is a dull distraction. Ruth is a writer, struggling with long-term writers block, giving Ozeki the opportunity to tell the reader, at length, how very, very tough life is for writers – even one who lives in fairly idyllic surroundings with no apparent real health or money worries and with a partner who loves and supports her. She is also in a perpetual state of existential angst and this part of the novel merely serves to interrupt and slow to a crawl the telling of Nao’s tale. And to make matters worse, Ozeki introduces a quasi-mystical, quasi-quantum-mechanical element into Ruth’s part that turns Nao’s believable and often moving story into some kind of mystical fantasy in the end. The underlying questions that are being examined – of identity and the nature of time – are addressed with a subtlety in Nao’s story that is almost destroyed by the clumsy handling of Ruth’s portion of the book.

Ruth Ozeki
Ruth Ozeki

The writing is skilful and confident for the most part and, when telling a plain tale, Ozeki writes movingly and often beautifully. Unfortunately she has attempted to be too clever in this, not just with the supernatural nonsense, but with the whole conceit of Ruth translating Nao’s diary as we go along. This leads to lots of unnecessary footnotes, silly little drawings and playing with fonts, all of which merely serve to distract from the story. Ruth will translate a sentence except for one or two words, which she leaves as Japanese in the main body of the text, and then gives the translation a footnote – why? It would be understandable if she only did this with concepts which may be unfamiliar to a Western audience, but she does it for normal words – like leaving in ‘zangyo’ and telling us in a footnote that this means ‘overtime’. The flow of reading is constantly interrupted by the need to check the bottom of the page to find out what the sentence means.

While sometimes telling a story from different points of views adds depth, in this case unfortunately the contrast serves only to weaken the thrust and impact of the main story. Had this been a plainer telling of Nao’s story alone, it would probably have got top rating from me, and overall there is enough talent on display here to mean that I may look out for more of Ozeki’s work, keeping my fingers crossed she finds a way to end future books without resorting to the fantastical. But, for me, it’s hard to see how this could stand in contention with either of the other Booker nominees I’ve read this year – Harvest or Testament of Mary. Of course, that probably means it will win…

For an entirely different view of this book, please click through to read Lady Fancifull’s review. Sometimes we agree, sometimes…not so much! 😉

NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.

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Villain by Shuichi Yoshida

villainAftermath of a violent crime…

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Somewhat let down by the clumsy Americanisation of the translation, this book is nevertheless a fascinating study of the people affected by the aftermath of a violent crime.

I found this to be very much a book of two halves. In the first we are told of the crime and introduced to the people affected by it, families and friends of both the victim and the suspects. I found the book very slow at the beginning – the author seemed obsessed by telling us the price of everything, from train fares to haircuts to road tolls. I wondered if this may have been intended to show the economic struggles Japan has faced in recent years but whatever the reason it made for tedious reading. We also received more detail than I felt necessary on the various roads around the region. I admit I did think about giving up on the book in the early stages.

This feeling was not helped by the translation which used American slang in a way that seemed terribly inappropriate to the subject matter at times. For instance, a suspect, when recounting a meeting with the father of the victim, says ‘Y’all killed mah daughter! The guy said and tried to grab me.’ This kind of thing promptly transported me out of Japan and into schlock westerns, I’m afraid.

Shuichi Yoshida
Shuichi Yoshida

However, I’m glad I read on. As the book progresses, we learn more about the people involved and get an insight into a society that seems very divided between the young and the old. At times, and especially towards the end, the book was very moving, particularly when describing the parents’ and grandparents’ love for their children whose way of life they do not understand. The victim, Yoshino, and her friends still long for the tradition of marriage but are as likely to look to form relationships online as in person, with all the dangers that that can entail. We are told a lot about the sleazy side of society: massage parlours, ‘love’ hotels, prostitution. But there is also love in this story, both romantic love and the love of family, and sacrifices made for love, and it was in these areas that I felt the book was strongest.

Not a traditional crime story by any means, I felt this book gave many insights into a rapidly changing society, a youth culture centred on the online world and, resultantly, the alienation of the different generations. If you can overlook the translation issues, this is a book well worth reading.

NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.

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Fujisan by Randy Taguchi

fujisanStrange but compelling…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

This rather strange but very moving collection of four stories is centred round the iconic Mount Fuji. In each story the central character seems somehow damaged and alone, struggling to work out who they are and why they feel what they feel. This makes it sound like a very depressing read but somehow it’s not – on the contrary, I was left feeling, without quite understanding why, that the overall message of the book is one of hope and inspiration.

There is a spiritual feel to the book; these characters are seeking something that will enable them to explain themselves to themselves and their searches take them in strange and surprising directions. ‘Blue Summit’ tells of an ex-cult member now working in a convenience store and learning how to live outside the cult. ‘Sea of Trees’ is a disturbing tale of three boys confronting death while spending a night in the woods of Mount Fuji. ‘Jamilla’ is a compulsive hoarder and this is the tale of the social worker detailed to clear her house. And lastly, in ‘Child of Night’ a walk up the mountain becomes a journey of self-discovery for a nurse who is struggling with the ethics of her job.

TOSHIBA Exif JPEG

There is a strange passivity about some of the characters, (something I’ve noticed in other Japanese novels, so perhaps it’s a cultural trait), but also a strong feeling of the possibility of spiritual rebirth or redemption. I’m not at all sure that I fully understood the book (as may be obvious from this review!) but I found it compelling and thought provoking, and although it saddened and even disturbed me in places, I felt oddly uplifted in the end.

randy taguchiThe translation is done very well although, as is often the case, with a very American English slant. However, it seemed to me that the translator kept the voices consistent and it felt as if the overall tone was probably a very good representation of the original. The individual stories are interesting in themselves and they aren’t linked by anything other than the appearance of Mount Fuji but this is very definitely a collection that builds together so that the sum is far greater than the parts. Highly recommended.

NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.

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The Earthquake Bird by Susanna Jones

The Earthquake Bird2Compelling, enigmatic central character… 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When Lucy’s friend Lily is murdered, Lucy becomes the main suspect. We meet her while she is being questioned by the police and refusing to answer them. Instead she tells us, the readers, her story. Damaged by events in her early life, Lucy has moved from her Yorkshire home to Japan to try to put the past and her family behind her. She has grown to love her new country but still gives the impression of being very much an outsider looking in.

Susanna Jones’ great strength is in creating compelling, enigmatic central characters and Lucy is a fine example of this. She admits to being ‘strange’ and some of her actions would seem to confirm this. But she tells her story in such a way that the reader can’t be sure whether her memories are accurate or distorted by later events. She is oddly likeable despite her insecurities and obsessiveness.

Jones’ writing style is spare and well crafted, shot through with shafts of humour and irony, but gradually creating tension that builds throughout the book. Through Lucy’s eyes, Jones gives us a convincing picture of life for a young woman in an alien culture and of the crossover between the immigrant community and the native Japanese. She doesn’t make the mistake of trying to tie everything up too neatly at the end – Lucy’s future remains as enigmatic as her past. An excellent debut novel with all the ingredients that Jones shows in her more recent books. Recommended.

Amazon UK Link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/review/RNU4YXLF87RLG

Amazon US Link: http://www.amazon.com/review/R38VZAELL7PLN7